History Of The YMCA
Sir George Williams was born in a farmhouse in southern England in 1821. He was brought up in the Church of England. However, when young George arrived in the city to become an assistant drapers apprentice, he found his faith lacking. He managed to find a few young workers who, by their example, encouraged him to give his own life more completely to Jesus Christ. On June 4, 1844, twelve men, led by George Williams, founded the Young Men's Christian Association, and thus the YMCA was born.
The original Mission Statement
"The Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) seeks to unite those young men, who regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Savior, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be His disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of His Kingdom amongst young men.”
Around 1850, Thomas Sullivan of Boston was organizing groups to pass out pamphlets that explained the message of God's love in Jesus Christ. From his journal in 1851 we read this,
"In October of 1851, I read this newspaper account of this new organization in London that had been formed for young men who had pledged their lives to Jesus Christ and needed a wholesome alternative to life on the street. I thought this would fit my young men just fine. So I traveled to London to visit the YMCA, and upon my return summoned together other concerned Christian leaders to consider establishing a YMCA in order that these young men be nurtured in their Christian faith. We agreed to start the first YMCA in the United States."
The Paris Basis
The continuing basis of the work and witness of the Young Men’s Christian Association is expressed in the Paris Basis, as adopted by the delegates of the First World Conference in Paris in 1855, and reaffirmed by the 6th World Council of YMCAs in 1973:
“The Young Men’s Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Saviour, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of his Kingdom amongst young men. “
This document serves as the foundational principle of the World YMCA. It is held as the primary mission statement of YMCAs in most places around the globe. Sadly, that is not necessarily true in many places in the US.
While the times have certainly changed, the foundation of our organization is solidly laid on this statement approved just 11 years after the founding of the YMCA and reaffirmed consistently since.
The World YMCA website adds these comments to the discussion about how the changing culture should impact our commitment to this statement:
“Any differences of opinion on other subjects, however important in themselves, shall not interfere with the harmonious relations of the constituent members and associates of the World Alliance.”
THe YMCA in the United States
By 1855, there were 24 YMCAs across the United States from New York to San Francisco and from New Orleans to Detroit and Washington DC. The first national meeting was held in New York, forming a voluntary association of YMCA's in the U.S. and Canada.
None of these YMCAs had buildings at the time- they were simply organized groups that reached out and discipled young men. It was not until 1859, that the first YMCA building was built in Baltimore, Maryland.