ROBERT ROSS MCBURNEY - THE HEIR TO A MOVEMENT
Although George Williams was the founder of the movement, Robert McBurney was the man who generally shaped what the movement came to be and specifically embodied what the YMCA secretary (executive director) was. The genius of Williams was to create a vision and passion within young men to reach other young men for Christ whereas, the genius of McBurney was to give to those men the pragmatics of how to reach young men for Christ. He expanded Williams’s methods of using activity and amusements to proportions Williams initially never dreamed of, and yet in all of his endeavors, McBurney never forsook the YMCA’S purpose of winning young men to Christ. Where Williams saw the buying of Exeter Hall as the crowning achievement of the London YMCA, McBurney saw the myriads of facilities he built, bought and renovated as the means to the Y’s end of attracting young men to Christ. It is safe to say there is no other figure who had a more significant influence upon the YMCA than Robert Ross McBurney. He more than any other individual defined the General Secretary’s role and his philosophies continue to influence the Y over a century after he last worked for the Y.
THE STUDY OF MEN FOR THE GLORY OF GOD
A friend of McBurney’s, George A. Warburton, stated while McBurney always read good books, his most successful study was men. Warburton went on to say McBurney’s whole life was a study of human conduct and he knew men as few have ever known them. Thus, the following study of one particular man - Robert Ross McBurney - is offered so modern day men and women can learn how to use McBurney’s and Williams’s methods and thus become more effective in “extending the Kingdom.”
Robert Ross McBurney was born an Ulster Scot in Northern Ireland to a prominent Physician and surgeon who was an anti-Catholic leader. His mother (nee Ross) was an ardent Methodist and was the first of his father’s three wives. His mother instilled in him a rich love for Church singing and hymns, but died when Robert was but a “wee bairn” of only six. Robert was raised in the Church and had a zest for Christian service for his entire life as a result of this early upbringing.
His father, mother and step mother (another fervent Methodist) were all instrumental in instilling in Robert a firm Biblical and ecclesiastical foundation which served him the rest of his life.
In 1854, at the age of 18, Robert came to America as one of the hundreds of thousands of poor Irish immigrants who were escaping the potato famine or who were searching for a better life. Upon his arrival in New York City he found his first lodging at the newly organized YMCA (which was only in its second year of existence at the time) and his first employment was secured with Henry Harrison a friend of his father. The Harrison family was well connected in the American political and business worlds including family members who became president and served in Congress. He worked in Harrison’s hat establishment and may have continued in that business except for the fact that it went bankrupt during the civil war. During his work in the hat business, he found time to become a leader of a noonday prayer meeting at the North Dutch Church on Fulton Street in New York City (where he was greatly influenced by the preaching ministry of Theodore Cuyler) and joined the Mulberry Street Methodist Episcopal Church (later St. Pails) of which he remained a member until his death. He also became involved with many of the area Sunday Schools and other Church ministries. The noonday prayer meeting was the impetus of a very influential and renowned revival.
ASSOCIATION WITH THE YMCA
From there, McBurney connected with the newly formed YMCA was volunteer led until Robert was employed as its officer in 1862. His first salary was a paltry $5 per week. This sum and the fact that he remained a bachelor throughout his life in order to better serve the Y were two indications of the level of his commitment to his calling. In fact he often had to be persuaded by the board to take a salary increase. He was a man totally committed to reaching men for Christ and arranged his entire life so he could serve in Christian ministry. (A)The words of his biographer describe McBurney best: “he made all his decisions in the light of full surrender to the one end of his life.”
This is included only to describe the zeal (although obviously misguided) of his father’s beliefs in a day and age in which such zeal demonstrated religious fervor. This “McBurnian” strength of character was used for more lofty ideals by the younger McBurney throughout his life.
Doggett, p. 154.
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:
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