Friends united in mission

[William Wilberforce—John Rising / Wikimedia]


Early church

c.33 Paul is converted and joins the early Christian community.

374 Ambrose becomes bishop of Milan, where he will influence Augustine.

379 Basil dies after reconciling with Gregory of Nazianzus. 

c. 383 Gregory of Nyssa writes Life of Macrina.

c. 390 Evagrius writes Praktikos on soul friendship.

c.420 John Cassian writes the Institutes and the Conferences

c.500s The Celtic tradition of the anamchara, or “soul-friend,“develops.

Medieval church

616 Oswald becomes a Christian at Iona.

1115 Scholar Peter Abelard mentors, then seduces, Héloïse d’Argenteuil.

c.1164–67 Aelred writes On Spiritual Friendship.

1205 Boncompagno de Signa writes Friendship.

1208 Francis of Assisi begins attracting followers.


1516 Bishop Guillaume Briçonnet gathers a circle of reformers around him.

1534 Iñigo López de Loyola and fellow students begin to meet for prayer.

1541 Guillaume Farel mentors Calvin and Viret through letters.

Modern church

1723 Jonathan Edwards is impressed by Sarah Pierpont; they later marry.

1729 Charles and John Wesley and William Morgan form a study group at Oxford. 

1744 John Wesley begins meeting with preachers in conferences for mutual support.

1748 Charles Wesley meets Sally Gwynne; they later marry.

1783 The Eclectic Society, a group of Anglican clergy and influential laity, is formed. 

1787 English author Hannah More becomes friends with John Newton and William Wilberforce.

c.1790 Henry Venn founds the Clapham Sect, which includes More, Newton, Wilberforce, and other Christians working for reform of English society.

1806 Five Williams College students meet under a haystack to discuss how to reach Asia for Christ.

1824 Six students at St. Andrews University in Scotland form a society to promote missions. 

1835–37 Sarah Worrall Lankford and Phoebe Worrall Palmer begin meeting with women for prayer. 

1877 Temperance advocates Frances Willard and Anna Gordon meet at a revival meeting.

1885 Seven English students answer the call for missionaries to China put out by Hudson Taylor. 

1895 Amy Carmichael forms a group of indigenous female missionaries in India, the Starry Cluster. 

1926 C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien meet.

c.1933 Lewis and Tolkien adopt the name “Inklings” for their informal gathering of Christian writers and academics, who meet until 1949.


Early church

c.33–c.64 Paul and his circle travel far, sharing the gospel with Gentiles.

370 Basil becomes bishop of Caesarea.

372 Gregory, his brother, becomes bishop of Nyssa. Basil manipulates Gregory of Nazianzus into becoming a bishop, causing a rift.

374 Amphilochius, cousin of Gregory of Nazianzus, becomes a bishop. 

c. 380 Peter (brother of Basil, Macrina, and Gregory of Nyssa) becomes a bishop. Gregory of Nazianzus becomes archbishop of Constantinople.

381 Gregory of Nazianzus and Evagrius Ponticus participate in the Trinity-affirming First Council of Constantinople.

387 Ambrose baptizes Augustine, who later becomes bishop of Hippo.

563 Colmcille founds a monastery on the Scottish island of Iona.

Medieval church

634 Oswald asks Iona monks to teach his subjects.

635 Aidan from Iona becomes a missionary in Lindisfarne.

1147 Aelred, an English Cistercian monk, becomes abbot of Rievaulx. 

1210 The Franciscans become an official religious order.


1521 The Circle of Meaux spreads “Lutheran” ideas in France.

 1534 Guillaume Farel of the Meaux Circle encourages his friend Pierre Viret to preach.

1536 Farel persuades John Calvin to stay in Geneva and work for reform.

1540 Loyola’s friends become an official religious order, the Society of Jesus or Jesuits.

1601 Matteo Ricci publishes You lun (a treatise on friendship) as part of evangelistic work in China.

Modern church

1738 The Wesley brothers begin to organize followers for prayer and mutual support. 

1799 Eclectic Society members found the Church Missionary Society.

1810 The Haystack Prayer Group and others found the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM).

1829 Alexander Duff from the St. Andrews Seven becomes the Church of Scotland’s first missionary to India. Four others from St. Andrews also become missionaries.

1833 The British Parliament passes the Slavery Abolition Act, a culmination of Wilberforce and More’s work.

1839 Palmer and Lankford’s meetings launch Palmer and her husband on a career of speaking and writing. 

1879 Willard becomes president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union with Gordon as her secretary.

1886 The Cambridge Seven arrive in China. 

1901 Carmichael and the Starry Cluster rescue their first child prostitute, leading to the founding of the Dohnavur Fellowship.

1902 Dixon Hoste of the Cambridge Seven becomes Hudson Taylor’s successor. 

1914 Gordon becomes president of the WCTU.

1931 Lewis converts to Christianity, in part through Tolkien’s influence.

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #132 in 2019]

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