The Upper Room Story
Following the stock market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, Frances Craig, a Sunday School teacher at Travis Park Methodist Episcopal Church, in San Antonio, Texas, saw the comfort people found in short devotional readings. She urged her pastor, Dr. Paul Kern, to write a collection of devotionals. In the weekly church newsletter, Kern began suggesting daily scripture readings alongside short notes to encourage people to read the Bible. Mrs. Craig never forgot the impact of that daily guidance in Bible reading.
At the same time, Grover Emmons, a clergyman of the Methodist Episcopal Church who had served in France and the Far East, was also being prepared for his future role in developing The Upper Room daily devotional guide. In his ministry, Emmons saw that believers around the world have a common commitment to Christ. He dreamed of a devotional book that would be available and usable for all, “to cultivate an acquaintance with God.”
In early 1934, Emmons came to Nashville, Tennessee to work as the director of home missions, evangelism, and hospitals for the Board of Home Missions.
In December 1934 Grover Emmons gave a report about the committee’s work on “the matter of a publication for devotional use in the home.” The following motion was brought to the board:
. . . To publish a quarterly devotional booklet to be sold in the local church through the Missionary Committee and to bear the imprint of the Commission [on Home Missions, Hospitals, and Evangelism]. This is to be an experiment for one quarter, details to be referred to Dr. Emmons . . .
At the time, Frances Craig served as a volunteer director on the Committee on Devotional Literature for the Board of Home Missions, and she took news of the project back to San Antonio and asked the Philathea Sunday school class (a group of more than 100) to pray for the devotional project.
Dr. Emmons began to develop the structure of the magazine; daily entries would include a quoted scripture verse, a suggested scripture reading, brief comments, a prayer, and a closing thought for the day. Individuals were invited to provide content for the daily entries and the emphasis was on personal stories of everyday people. When Frances Craig received a letter asking her to write entries for the new magazine, she knew that her prayers were having effect—production of the magazine was underway.
Grover Emmons and Bishop Arthur J. Moore talked to pastors and leaders of all denominations throughout the United States and shared the vision for the little magazine: reestablish the “family altar”—the practice of daily prayer and Bible reading in the home.
The new magazine would not be just a Methodist publication but a gift from Methodists to the larger church. Dr. Emmons envisioned a devotional aid that was not doctrinal but inclusive, centered not on differences but on beliefs that Christians hold in common.
Attending a church conference in Richmond, Virginia, Grover Emmons heard Reverend John W. Smith speak about the power of God descending on Jesus’ disciples as they prayed in an upper room. Dr. Emmons was inspired: the magazine would be called The Upper Room.
In early 1935, 100,000 copies of the first issue (April-May-June 1935) sold out quickly. The staff ordered 160,000 copies of the second issue and 211,000 of the third issue. By the seventh issue, the print run was half a million copies.
Almost immediately after the magazine’s publication, readers began writing and sending in devotionals that spoke of their personal faith stories. By 1938, the magazine was publishing meditations written by ordinary readers, not just invited writers. With the January–February–March 1939 issue, less than four years after the first issue, circulation reached an astounding one million copies.
Today, The Upper Room daily devotional guide is a familiar item on kitchen and bedside tables around the country. Over the years, that little, beloved magazine has sparked a global ministry that now reaches millions around the world in 100 countries in 35 languages.
Upper Room Ministries now include magazine and book publications, a museum and chapel in Nashville, Tennessee, and program ministries like The Walk to Emmaus, The Academy for Spiritual Formation, and The Living Prayer Center.
Scroll through the decade links below to see more key dates in The Upper Room story.
What’s YOUR Upper Room Story? How has Upper Room Ministries shaped your spiritual formation? Share your story with us: URStory@upperroom.org
To submit a meditation to The Upper Room daily devotional guide, visit http://devotional.upperroom.org/guidelines
To read more about the history of The Upper Room, read Where the World Meets to Pray: People and Stories of The Upper Room by Mary Lou Redding, © 2009 Upper Room Books.
First issue of The Upper Room daily devotional guide is published and 100,000 copies are distributed
First "other language" edition of the guide is printed
The devotional literature department is created and publishes its first tract
A Braille edition of the guide is started
Circulation of the guide passes the two million mark
The Upper Room Fellowship is established to respond to prayer requests and to manage the endowment fund
The Upper Room Library begins its collection of devotional books
The Upper Room Chapel and Museum opens, featuring The Last Supper wood carving
The World Christian Fellowship Window is installed and dedicated in the chapel
First annual edition of The Upper Room Disciplines is published as a pastor's aid
Editions of the daily devotional guide are now printed in 35 languages
The guide becomes available on cassette tape
Alive Now magazine is launched
The Upper Room Chapel and Museum registers its one millionth visitor
The Upper Room Prayer and Bible Conference holds its first gathering
First large-print edition of the daily devotional guide is printed
Maxie Dunnam's Workbook of Living Prayer is published
The 40th anniversary of The Upper Room is observed in Nashville by delegates from 36 international editions
The Upper Room Living Prayer Center is established
The Walk to Emmaus movement is started
The 600-millionth copy of The Upper Room is printed
Pockets magazine is launched
The first Academy of Spiritual Formation is held in Nashville
The Living Prayer Center receives 9,000 calls per month
Chrysalis movement is started
Weavings journal is launched
An Adventure in Healing and Wholeness program is launched
The Upper Room Museum is renovated and hosts its four-millionth visitor
Devo'Zine magazine is launched
The Upper Room enters cyberspace with its own web site
The E-mail Edition of the daily devotional guide begins
The Living Prayer Center receives 15,000 calls per month
MethodX, a website for Young Adults, is launched
Companions in Christ is launched
The Living Prayer Center receives 6,000 prayer requests via the website
Africa Upper Room Ministries is founded near Johannesburg, South Africa
Editions of the daily devotional guide are now printed in 44 languages
Nearly 3,000 copies of Prayers for Courage are sent to military personnel serving overseas
Academy for Spiritual Formation adapted for use in South Africa. Participants intentionally include black, white, and Indian persons.
"Academia de Formacion Espiritual" held in Puerto Rico (Spanish adaptation of the Five Day Academy
The Living Prayer Center receives 30,000 calls per month
SOULFeast retreat is held at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina
The Upper Room daily devotional guide celebrates its 75th anniversary
El Aposento Alto the Spanish edition of The Upper Room daily devotional guide celebrates its 75th anniversary