This Series of Blogs provide vignettes of the early pioneers of The Muscular Christianity Era - Faith-Sport Integration who laid the foundations for the Modern Day Sports Outreach Movement
MEETING THE PERCEIVED NEED
J. E. Hodder Williams records the wonderful story of one of George Williams’s fellow draper assistants, Edward Rogers. Rogers was quite antagonistic towards Williams and the others who were meeting for prayer and Bible study. Some probably wished to retaliate but George led the discussion about Rogers in the direction of determining what Rogers enjoyed and what they as a group could do to win him over.(K) It was decided to give him an oyster dinner since it was well known he was fond of oysters and it was further planned to have their member with the best relationship with Rogers provide the invitation to the dinner.(L) Rogers accepted and Williams instructed each of the Bible study members there was not to be any “proselytizing” done that evening. Furthermore, he instructed them to accentuate having a good and fun time. Rogers was so impressed by the quality of the evening and the frivolity of the men he spent the evening with, that he responded to a subsequent invitation to their prayer and Bible study meeting. By the next May he had embraced a personal relationship with Christ. It was just a few short weeks later, on June 6, 1844, he was among the twelve who formed the YMCA and in a bit of irony, his is the only original membership card which has survived to the present day.
This story is indicative of the methodology of Williams. He often said rather than arguing with someone - about religion or faith - simply take the man to supper. At the 1871 conference he spoke about how the success of the Association could be increased. His advice included to know men by name; write personal letters to these men; go for walks with them; take them out for tea; show them love; give them warm handshakes; and have warm hearts with loving souls towards them. He realized the profound effect enjoying life together can have in leading a person to Christ.(M)
He also realized reaching men for Christ took time. He wrote to one of the secretaries explaining bringing one man to Christ was the result of one good year’s work. He practiced long term relationships with people, preferring to win them to Christ no matter how long it might take.(N)
There would be more discussions by the Association about how to meet the perceived needs of young men at the annual conference in 1860. Many of the branches gave testimony to how harmless amusements had actually helped and not hindered the fundamental purpose for which the association existed. This seemed to become the prevailing belief, and amusements became an increasingly prevalent aspect of Y work. While adding innovations to the work were supported by Williams and other members, there were always cautionary warnings such as the one presented at the 1864 conference. It was reported the branches which departed from first principles were doomed to failure and thus while methods could change the foundational aim could not (O)
One must remember that during the 60 plus years George Williams was the driving force behind the YMCA he remained a full time business man, never a YMCA staff. Not only did the YMCA become a world wide organization under his leadership, but in addition his business was extremely profitable. Part of the reason for this was George worked incredibly long hours and seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of energy, yet when asked the secret to his being successful in both the business and the Y, he responded he managed the men who managed the business. He learned early on to depend upon the II Timothy 2.2 principle of surrounding yourself with reliable men and this was as much a reason for his success as anything else. (P)
His was a way of life more than a simple management technique, however. His workers simply adored him. He engendered a real love and compassion amongst his closest associates. His belief in God was lived out each moment of each day and he put his faith into action, actively loving those around him. There are accounts of him helping out his employees who were in financial straights. He was more than once found on his knees praying with and for one of his workers after the man had come to the “boss’s office” seeking a “friend.” He often paid for the seminary schooling of his workers so they could follow a call into ministry, even though he knew he would lose a good employee. In an era in which workers were expected to work 6-7 days a week for up to 17 hours per day, he fought for shortening the work week for all men, not just his own. If all employers were so considerate of those who toiled on their behalf, there would never have been a need for unions. In essence, all of this explains why it was said of him those who knew him best loved him most. No greater testimony can be uttered and no man ever created a more loyal following.(Q)
One of the people who loved him and to whom he was much indebted was his wife Helen. He married his boss’s daughter and without her, he would never have achieved anything near what he did. It was her tireless efforts at home along with her constant support of her husband’s mission work that enabled George to be about reaching men for Christ. Because he married well, his life’s work was enhanced. Helen was indeed a helpmate and deserves special recognition for her part in enabling the YMCA to become such a prominent instrument of God. (R)
Their marriage produced six children including five boys who all became upstanding and successful in their fields. Three joined their father’s business; one went into law and the fifth became a clergyman. George not only managed other men, but he managed his family as well. It was noted that each Sabbath was highly observed by Williams as a day of worship and rest with his family. Another special day was his anniversary which he celebrated each year as a holiday spent alone with his wife. Whatever else came, he recognized his family as a priority.(S)
The one dark period in the life of George Williams was when his 19 year old daughter Nellie died. It devastated the elderly father and was the one thing which almost erased the prior 70 years of delight. His utter grief evidenced his absolute love for his family. Time and God eventually healed the wounds and in classic George Williams style the passing of his daughter invigorated Williams to have even greater compassion for those who suffered. This would come to impact his influence on the YMCA as he wanted the Y to help those who were down trodden.
Not only was George able to manage his family and the men who worked for him, but he also had the unique ability to surround himself with great and powerful men. It was not that he neglected the powerless or uninfluential man, but rather he understood all men, great and small, needed Christ, and in addition all men were needed for the work to be successful. (T) The YMCA conventions were attended by some of the times most powerful and wealthy men and it was to them George went when the work was in need of their resources.
When Exeter Hall became available Williams knew immediately the YMCA must have it but the price was enormous. Yet within two days five men responded to Williams’s request and each pledged 5,000 pounds towards the purchase. The most amazing part of this story is George only went to five men. He needed 25,000 pounds and he got 5,000 from each of the five without receiving even one rejection. This story makes it clear the work of the YMCA and the life of George Williams were of such sterling reputation that they engendered immediate and heartfelt support from everyone. The relationships which Williams built through the years were solid and enduring.
Williams, p. 99-101.
Williams, p. 217.
Williams, p. 218.
Williams, p. 199.
Williams, pp. 222-225.
Williams, p. 289.
This blog is an excerpt from a future book "Surrounded by Witnesses" by Dr. Greg Linville. All rights reserved. For any reproduction right, including copying, computer reproduction, etc. contact:
Dr. Greg Linville at CSRM International C/O The World Outreach Center 5350 Broadmoor Circle N. w. Canton, Ohio – USA 44709 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Other blogs and articles on Local Church Sports, sports theology and ethics written by Dr. Greg Linville and other local church Sports, Rec & Fitness Ministers are archived at: http://www.csrm.org/blog/