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George Williams Created the YMCA to Give Young Men Clean and Useful Fun

George Williams was founder of the Y.M.C.A.

GEORGE WILLIAMS WAS APPALLED at the way London’s shocking amusements tempted unattached workmen into vice. Their employers cared nothing about them, he wrote. “They were treated as though deprived of mind . . . as though formed only to labor and sleep...without a moment for spiritual or mental culture, without the disposition or even the strength for the performance of those devotional exercises which are necessary to the maintenance of a spiritual life.” He determined to do something about it. 

Williams had been a country boy who moved to London for work. Successful in business, he soon rose to the top of his drapery (cloth-sellers’) firm. As a Christian, he labored to bring his fellow employees to Christ. Influenced by American evangelist Charles Finney and by British Quakers, who demanded that the Christian life be lived out in practical expressions and social concerns, he used his growing wealth to support evangelical causes. 

Especially, he looked for some way to redirect the energies of young men away from vice and frivolity to useful and noble diversions. On this day 6 June 1844, he gathered twelve men in his bedroom for prayer and spiritual conversation. All but one were his co-workers. This group grew into the Young Men’s Christian Association, or the Y.M.C.A. To fulfill their purpose, they hired a hall and invited fellow-drapers to join them for lectures (which included Gospel talks), exercise, and innocent fun. 

Although the founders’ original intent was merely to help employees of drapery houses, they soon extended the idea to any interested young man. It caught fire and became a worldwide movement, with over one hundred and fifty thousand members in Britain alone, half a million in America, and thousands of branches around the world. Prominent philanthropists like Lord Shaftesbury endorsed it. This was an age in which the church was reaching out to the victims of the industrial revolution, and the Y.M.C.A was yet another expression of that concern. 

Queen Victoria eventually knighted Williams for service to the nation. The Y.M.C.A. originally said its one supreme aim was “enthroning Jesus Christ in the hearts of young men,” a statement now broadened to “a mission to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all.”

Dan Graves

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George Williams sought to give young men Christian disciplines in place of corrupt activities. For more about the life of discipline, watch Celebration of Discipline.

[Celebration of Discipline can also be streamed at RedeemTV]

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