Baptists and Missionaries

Tim Costello returns to his old school, discovers the reason it was founded, and reflects on the legacy of its namesake: William Carey.

On Sunday, I had the honour of speaking at the centenary service for my old school, Carey Baptist Grammar School.

In preparing, I discovered that Carey was specifically set up in 1923 to cultivate and encourage missionaries and Baptist ministers. It was honouring William Carey, the father of Protestant missions, who in 1793 went to India.

Now, even as a Baptist minister, I was staggered to discover that was the purpose of my old school. Carey alumni would be even more staggered. We are proud of Graham Yallop, captain of the Australian Test cricket team, and Meg Lanning, captain of the women’s Test team. And of course many businesspeople and politicians, like my brother, Peter Costello. But missionaries, and Baptist ministers?!

Anyone who tries to persuade others to change how they see the world is suspect in today’s world. (Ironically, as most of us are constantly doing this!) So missionaries get a bad rap.

But few would be aware today that William Carey and his fellow missionaries in Serampore saw it as their mission, not only to invite Indians to embrace Christianity, but to bring lasting social change to their adopted home. Carey was one of the world’s great educationalists, linguists, and champions of social justice – losing many potential converts in the process of fighting the practice of sati, where a widow would be burned alive on her deceased husband’s funeral pyre.

I’m proud that as it’s changed over the last 100 years, my old school retains a Carey-esque commitment to social justice and educational excellence. Perhaps what we value and applaud in our alumni is not so far off what the founders intended after all.