October 19: William Carey, Missionary to India, 1834

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From William Carey: The Shoemaker Who Became the Founder of Modern Missions; John Brown Myers; London 1887

About this commemoration

William Carey was an English Baptist missionary and was a major figure in developing the Protestant missionary movement of the nineteenth century.

Born a son of the Church of England in 1761, Carey took an early interest in his studies and excelled at languages, a gift that would serve him in his ministry. After his village schooling, Carey apprenticed as a cobbler where he came into contact with a fellow worker who was a Nonconformist. Carey was challenged by this relationship and he eventually left the Church of England and became a Congregationalist. Carey developed into a master cobbler, married, and with his wife, Dorothy, had six children, only three of which survived childhood. During his years as a master cobbler, Carey’s interest in languages became a passionate avocation; he learned Italian, French, Dutch, and Hebrew, while increasing his mastery of Latin, a language he had taught himself as a youngster.

Carey’s spiritual quest continued. He was re-baptized in 1783 and was a Baptist for the remainder of his life. He became a schoolmaster and served as a Baptist pastor while struggling with his responsibility to foreign missions. He was among the founders in 1792 of what would become the Baptist Missionary Society. Finally, in 1793, Carey and company set out for India.

After transitional periods in Calcutta and Midnapore, Carey and his fellow missionaries settled in Serampore in 1800 where Carey would spend the rest of his life. He was appointed a professor at Fort Williams College, which had been founded to educate the children of civil servants. While teaching, Carey translated the Bible into Bengali and Sanskrit and the New Testament into other Indian languages and dialects, in addition to providing translations of other Christian literature. Carey also completed a Bengali-English dictionary and other linguistic tools to support missionary work.

In 1818, Carey’s mission established Serampore College for the dual purpose of training indigenous ministers and providing a classical education to anyone regardless of caste or national origin.

William Carey died on June 9, 1834, and was buried in Serampore.


I  Merciful God, who didst call William Carey to missionary work in India and didst endue him with a zeal for thy Word that led him to translate Scripture into many local languages and dialects: Give us a heart for the spreading of thy Gospel and a thirst for justice among all the peoples of the world; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who sheds thy light and peace throughout humanity, and who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

II  Merciful God, you called William Carey to missionary work in India and gave him a zeal for your Word that led him to translate Scripture into many local languages and dialects: Give us a heart for the spreading of your Gospel and a thirst for justice among all the peoples of the world; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who sheds your light and peace throughout humanity, and who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalm 119:25-32

Lessons:  Jeremiah 1:4–8, Romans 10:14–17, and Matthew 17:14–20

Preface of a Saint (1)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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6 thoughts on “October 19: William Carey, Missionary to India, 1834

  1. In 2nd paragraph, change “only three of which” to “only three of whom.”

    In 3rd paragraph “Carey and company set off for India.” is rather vague. Who were these people? Wife and children? Students?

    He did commendable work, but I’m not sure why he’s here – token Baptist?

  2. Bio. 1st paragraph: A good ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement is included. Thank you.
    3rd paragraph, last sentence: ‘… Carey and company set out …’ How about ‘Carey and other missionaries set out …’? It makes it sound like he had company over for dinner and asked them to be missionaries over dessert. 🙂

  3. For whatever reasons, I just don’t find myself at all moved by this commemoration. It may have something to do with my reluctance to welcome more than one possible commemoration per day. This would be the one I would ignore on this day. There are numerous minor problematic points scattered throughout the write-up and the collects, but why get specific if I’m going to use the Henry Martyn option instead?

  4. I don’t question the worthiness of Carey’s life and ministry, but I’m still irked that we’re honoring Baptists and post-Reformation Roman Catholics in our calendar (neither denomination is likely to return the favor) while there are so worthy people we don’t honor. Among Episcopalians, the Virginia evangelical bishops Moore, Meade, and Johns and the authors of religious freedom (as we now understand it) Madison (the politician, not the bishop) and Jefferson come immediately to mind. And, since heterodoxy seems no longer to be a problem, how about Origen, Ulphilas (the Apostle to the Goths), Heloise and Abelard, and Occam?
    I get the feeling that adding 100+ names to the calendar in one fell swoop was a bridge or two too far. There are people in the new list that would not have survived the kind of vetting candidates got when we were adding two or three names at each General Convention, and, as noted, we’ve left out quite a few people whose saintiness and impact on Christian and/or world history are more than the equal of some of the lesser lights who did make the cut.

    • I will add just one comment. It seems that Wiliam Carey’s “rebaptism” as a Baptist runs counter to the Nicene Creed.

  5. The rationale for honoring William Carey on the same day as Henry Martyn is clear, but having two separate commemorations is not. I suggest that they should share a joint commemoration, as do many others in the calendar. (Adding Cuthbert to Aidan on August 31 is just one example).

    I would use as a subheading simply “Missionaries and Translators of the Scriptures”.

    If that suggestion is not accepted, however: since we always show the style (Bishop, Priest, Deacon) of TEC or other Anglican clergy, shouldn’t we show the same courtesy to clergy of other faiths–even “non-conformists”? William Carey would the be (say) “Baptist Minister and Translator of the Scriptures”.

    Line 1 of the first paragraph, substitute “, who” for “and”.

    Line 1 of the second paragraph, substitute “on August 17, 1761, in Paulerspury, near Northampton” for “in 1761”.

    Line 4 of the second paragraph, substitute “coming” for “where he came”. (“cobbler” is not a place where one can come from).

    Line 6 of the second paragraph, substitute “becoming” for “and became”. (avoiding the clumsy tripartite “and…and” construction)

    Line 6 of the third paragraph: what is this “company”? We may deduce that he was part of a missionary group, perhaps. I suggest substituting “his companions” for this unexplained “company”.

    Line 1 of the fourth paragraph: insert (now Kolkata).

    Line 1 of the fourth paragraph: insert “nearby” after the first “and”.

    Line 2 of the fourth paragraph: move “in 1800” to the first line before “Carey and…”.

    Line 2 of the fourth paragraph: insert “, another city in West Bengal, at that time a Danish colony.”

    Line 4 of the fourth paragraph: insert “in Calcutta” after “College”.

    Lines 4 & 5 of the fourth paragraph have what I believe to be an erroneous explanation. I believe the Wikipedia explanation that the College was founded to teach Indian languages to British civil servants, many newly arrived without knowledge of the language of the indigenous people. Few British children received high school or college education in baking hot India. Middle class British children of colonial officials were educated in the UK.

    Line 4 & 5 of the fourth paragraph: I suggest substituting “British colonial civil servants in Indian languages” for “the children of civil servants”.

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