The Union was founded in 1905 by Samuel E. Keeble, at a time when socialism was equated in WM circles with secularism and even atheism. Keeble was its President and William F. Lofthouse its Secretary. Its aims were defined as 'the collection and study of social facts, the pursuit of social service, and the discussion of social problems and theories from the Christian standpoint, with the view to educate public opinion and secure improvements in the conditions of life'. The Union attracted gifted young ministers, including J. Scott Lidgett, J. Ernest Rattenbury, H. Maldwyn Hughes, Frank Ballard, W.H. Armstrong, C. Ensor Walters and Henry Carter, and laymen like Arthur Henderson. Conferences were held in *Oxford in 1909 and 1912. Through local branches, its magazine See and Serve, edited by Carter, and its tracts and publications, it influenced the thinking of younger church members and within 18 months had 1,400 members, despite the opposition and criticism of Liberal laymen such as H.H. Fowler and R.W. Perks. It widened WM's concentration on a few traditional social problems and was one of the influences that led to the creation of the Temperance and Social Welfare Department in 1918. Numbers declined after 1918 and when the Beckly Lecture was established in 1926 the Union was dissolved.
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