Naval, Military & Air Force Bible Society was founded in 1779 by George Cussons and John Davies, Lay Wesleyan Methodists, supported by the Christian philanthropist, John Thornton. The Society was initially called The Bible Society. In 1804 – when The British and Foreign Bible Society was founded – the name was changed to Naval and Military Bible Society, with Air Force added in 1961.
The Society’s declared aim and mission statement were recorded with the date ‘8th of November 1779’ on the front page of its first Minute Book:
“For purchasing Bibles to be distributed among British Soldiers and Seamen of the Navy, to spread abroad (by the blessing of God) Christian knowledge and reformation of manners.”
William Wilberforce, the slavery abolitionist MP, Henry Thornton, Lord Palmerston and Rowland Hill are among a distinguished list of early Vice-Presidents and council members. In his active support of the Society, William Wilberforce was joined by other key figures in the Slave Trade Abolition Movement, including John Newton, Thomas Clarkson, Zachary Macaulay and Granville Sharp.
The Duke of Wellington became the Society’s President in 1816 and remained a council member for 36 years until his death.
The Society’s first Minute Book records that Bibles were granted to soldiers in the Guards and to Royal Navy officers onboard the Victory. Described as the world’s first mission to seamen, the Society has also supplied merchant sailors of every nationality since 1820 through seafarers’ missions.
Records show that by the1860s, from its humble beginnings, the number of Bibles and Scripture portions it had distributed now exceeded one million.
The Society continued to supply Britain’s forces throughout the world including during campaigns in the Crimea, India, Afghanistan, China, Egypt and South Africa, but by the end of the 19th century its support base was declining. In 1910 it was entrusted to Scripture Gift Mission, under whose care it began to thrive again, such that many millions of Scriptures were distributed to Allied Forces in both World Wars.
In 2004, the Society again became an independent charity and moved to its present office in Portsmouth. It is directed by a Board of Trustees, which includes serving members and chaplains of the three Armed Forces and Merchant Seafarers Missions, under the chairmanship of The Venerable Ron Hesketh CB, former Chaplain in Chief, Royal Air Force. Its Executive Director is Richard Prendergast.
The Society continues to fulfil its mission statement distributing Bibles and booklets at home and abroad. In 2009 it provided over 72,000 items of Christian literature, including 6,878 Bibles and 25,600 New Testaments.
What we do
Our mission is to supply Bibles and Christian resources to the uniformed services, seafarers and associated organisations.
Literature is provided on request and reimbursement is sought through donations and sponsorship to meet production costs and overheads.
Bibles and New Testaments are available in the Contemporary English (CEV), New International (NIV) and New Revised Standard (NRSV) versions. We can provide other Bible versions, foreign language translations and Christian literature from a variety of sources. So if what you require is not shown on our order form, please contact us and we will endeavour to locate and supply it.
Click on our Links page to find alternative resources, including where to obtain audio/visual Bible software for your mobile phone or ipod.
Booklets produced by the society cover many aspects of life, including:
The importance of character,
The challenge of leadership,
The necessity of moral and ethical values,
The need for God through Jesus Christ,
Combat stress, Prayer.
Registered Charity Number 1102593 Company Number 05021052
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