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About this commemoration
William Wilberforce was born into an affluent Yorkshire family
in 1759 and received his education at Cambridge. In 1780 he was
elected to the House of Commons, serving until 1825. Drawn to
the evangelical expression of the church from 1784, his colleagues
convinced him not to abandon his political activism in favor of his
newfound piety, but as a consequence he refused appointment to high
office or to a peerage.
Wilberforce passionately promoted overseas missions, popular
education, and the reformation of public manners and morals.
He supported parliamentary reform and emancipation for
Roman Catholics. Above all, he is remembered for his persistent,
uncompromising, and single-minded crusade for the abolition of slavery
and the slave trade, for which he received the blessing of John Wesley.
Wilberforce’s eloquence as a speaker, his charm in personal address,
and his profound religious spirit made him a formidable power for
good; and his countrymen came to recognize in him as a man of heroic
greatness. Wilberforce died in London on July 29, 1833, and was
buried in Westminster Abbey.
Anthony Ashley Cooper was born in 1801, son of the Sixth Earl of
Shaftsbury. Educated at Harrow and Oxford, he became a Member
of Parliament at the age of 25, representing the pocket borough of
Woodstock that was controlled by the Shaftsbury family.
He soon took up the challenge of social reform with particular
concern for the just treatment of factory workers, particularly
children. Lord Ashley led the charge in Parliament to limit workers’
hours and improve work and safety conditions. He also successfully
pushed through legislation that regulated the working conditions of
women and children in the mines, and restricted the abuse of little
boys as chimney sweeps.
Lord Ashley devoted his parliamentary career to issues of injustice at
all levels of English society, with particular concerns for the oppression
of women and children. He was an outspoken critic of the slave trade.
Like Wilberforce, he was a man of prayer and deep faith, and his
diaries are filled with profound spiritual reflections.
I Just and eternal God, we offer thanks for the stalwart faith
and persistence of thy servants William Wilberforce and
Anthony Ashley-Cooper, who, undeterred by opposition
and failure, held fast to a vision of justice in which no
child of yours might suffer in enforced servitude and
misery. Grant that we, drawn by that same Gospel vision,
may persevere in serving the common good and caring for
those who have been cast down, that they may be raised
up through Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit
liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
II Just and eternal God, we give you thanks for the stalwart
faith and persistence of your servants William Wilberforce
and Anthony Ashley-Cooper, who, undeterred by
opposition and failure, held fast to a vision of justice in
which no child of yours might suffer in enforced servitude
and misery. Grant that we, drawn by that same Gospel
vision, may persevere in serving the common good and
caring for those who have been cast down, that they may be
raised up through Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy
Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Preface of the Incarnation
Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.
We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?
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