'Turn the great emergency into a great opportunity': The Australian Bible Society and the crisis of war and pandemic, 1914–1919

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Australian Bible Society association gave hundreds of thousands of pocket New Testaments freely to Australian soldiers and nurses during the Great War. That herculean distribution effort was a key part of the society’s response to a period of sustained crisis between 1914 and 1919, which witnessed the death and injury of thousands of Australians during the war, followed by the death of 15,000 Australians in the subsequent Spanish Influenza pandemic.
This article offers a historical perspective on how a group of Australian Christians responded to their times. The focus here is on the leaders and supporters of the Australian arm of the British and the Foreign Bible Society (BFBS)—since renamed the Bible Society of Australia. The Bible Society’s response to crisis provides an illuminating case study for several reasons: in the first place, it is Australia’s oldest and largest nationwide parachurch organisation; additionally, during the period of the Great War it was the nation’s most important ecumenical (pan-protestant) structure, and so it provides a unparalleled snapshot of religious organisation and activity across Protestant denominations. The society also possesses a rich vein of archival sources—including extensive committee and branch minutes, ephemera, and periodical publications—that remain almost completely unmined by historians.
As this article demonstrates, Bible Society leaders and supporters responded with a clear focus on their mission and raison d’être; with creativity that saw opportunities within crises; with sacrificial commitment and flexibility; and with a stubborn optimism underpinned by trust in a transcendent kingdom governed by the generous and good providence of God—all of which was pursued in the face of profound uncertainty and loss that touched almost every family in Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Article number253
Pages (from-to)70-85
Number of pages16
JournalSt. Mark's review: A journal of Christian thought and opinion
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


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