Young Men’s Christian Association

The YMCA, as an organized body of young men determined to win their fellows to a saving faith in Christ, appears to have had independent beginnings in several European countries, but its origin is traditionally ascribed to George Williams* and his meetings in London in 1844. These Bible classes and the Exeter Hall lectures that sprang from them were patronized by leading Evangelical laymen, including the Earl of Shaftesbury, and soon the movement had spread to France, Holland, the USA, and the British Empire. A series of international discussions where the presiding genius was that of Williams culminated in an important conference at Paris in 1855 which adopted the “Paris Basis” as the declaration of faith of the movement, and in 1878, enormously strengthened by the Second Evangelical Awakening, the World's Alliance of YMCAs set up a permanent executive at Geneva, the Central International Committee (CIC). In 1894 the jubilee of the movement was celebrated, appropriately enough in London.

These early decades were not untroubled, and Williams's primacy and single-minded purposefulness were often resented by British and foreign colleagues alike. Criticized at various times for being either too broad or too narrow, particularly in its prohibition of games and smoking, the YMCA gradually overcame prejudice and added recreational and relief work to its original evangelistic concern. In the world wars, with its symbol of the Red Triangle, it strove to provide especially for the needs of soldiers, the wounded and prisoners-of-war. Today with its elaborate organization of hostels, clubs, cafeterias, gymnasia, vocation training centers, and holiday homes, the YMCA has throughout the world about six million members. Students and young men living away from home or traveling abroad now chiefly avail themselves of the organization's resources. In the USA, where its principal strength now lies, education has been particularly stressed, and a number of degree-giving institutions are supported.