July 30: William Wilberforce and Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, Prophetic Witnesses, 1833, 1885

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.


About this commemoration

William Wilberforce

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, Lord Shaftesbury

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.

Proverbs 25:11–15
Galatians 3:23–29
Mark 9:33–37,42

Psalm 112:1–9

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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About Beau Surratt
For now, here's my bio from the All Saints' webpage: During my time at Elmhurst College (where I graduated in 2006 with a B.A. degree in Theology and Religion) I served as a college intern here at All Saints' where I helped out at the food pantry on Tuesday nights, preached, led worship, visited home-bound parishioners and did lots of other random things. I found All Saints' to be such a fun and life-changing community of faith that I couldn't help but come back to work in this place. I'm now, by my count, on my fourth incarnation at All Saints’, having served as College Intern, Parish Administrator, Associate for Music and Administration, and now Director of Music. In many ways, I grew up here, and this is the community I call home. All Saints' is a community where all of us can offer all of who we are as we are, rough edges and all, and know that, when we do this, what will come to be is something even more beautiful and amazing than we could have ever imagined on our own. I am always amazed and filled with gratitude that week in and week out groups of people gather together in this place to create music that (we hope and pray) helps us as a community to pray, rejoice, understand the Scriptures, lament, cry, celebrate and more. When I think about it all, it really is astounding. So many of us are so busy and we're pulled in so many directions at once....and even so, we manage to come together to make music. It is my great privilege to have a ridiculous amount of fun helping to facilitate all of this. When I'm not making music at All Saints' I'm probably doing communications and operations work at two other congregations in our Diocese, St. Matthew's in Evanston and St. Martin's in Des Plaines. I live in Evanston with my partner Steve and our cat Magellan and I enjoy all sorts of musical activities, yoga, knitting, eating out with friends, biking, reading and all things Disney, especially Winnie the Pooh.

14 Responses to July 30: William Wilberforce and Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, Prophetic Witnesses, 1833, 1885

  1. John LaVoe says:

    Wilberforce: 3rd para. –“… recognize in him as a man of … ” OMIT “AS”.

    Shaftesbury – 2nd para. Is “pushed through” the best way to credit his contribution to this legislation?

    Collect: “suffer in enforced servitude” Is the preposition “in” necessary?
    Also, the bio didn’t prepare me for the Collect’s highlighting of their “failure.” Would it be possible to omit “and failure” in the collect?

    In the bio, again: “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.” I’d rather read “regarding” than “for” the oppression of women and children.
    “Concern” or “concerns” — I wonder which of these is preferable here.

  2. Bio: These gentlemen each need a ‘who they are’ statement – and a ‘why they are important’ statement.

    The Collect in LFF was concise and good. This new collect, IMHO, is wordy and weaker.

  3. Harry Grace says:

    This is an excellent addition, and the Scripture lessons read well for their ministry and witness – especially the selection from Proverbs.

  4. John LaVoe says:

    July 30: William Wilberforce and Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, Prophetic Witnesses, 1833, 1885

    Earlier I made two suggestions which were incomplete.
    I questioned a superfluous word (“in”) in the collect’s phrase “suffer in enforced servitude.” (It could simply say, “suffer enforced servitude.”)
    HOWEVER, “un-enforced servitude” doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, suggesting “enforced servitude” is redundant. Therefore, “suffer servitude” should suffice (eliminating two unnecessary words, “in” and “enforced”).
    I also noted the biographies didn’t lay any groundwork for the collect’s abrupt and surprising mention of “failure.” I wondered if that reference could be removed. HOWEVER, a friend with profound understanding of these men and their society helped me realize how monumental was their commitment to compassionate justice in the face of powerful people and institutions that ruthlessly opposed their efforts. It would be far better to leave “and failure” in the collect, but lay the groundwork in the biographies, somehow. Their story is incredibly more significant than the few sentences we can devote to them. Nevertheless, I hope it is possible to lay groundwork for this otherwise unexplained and unanticipated reference to “failure.”
    I’m sorry to be critical when everybody else seems content with the readings, but they just don’t seem “right on target” to me. They’re not far off, and I don’t have other suggestions besides one for the Psalm. Psalm 112 makes complete sense if understood as referring to the men commemorated. To use Brueggemann’s term, 112 is a psalm of orientation, i.e., the King, the Regime, the Status Quo, congratulating itself: “God’s in his temple and we the virtuous people and power institutions have it right, Hallelujah!” I suggest using Psalm 1, instead. It’s still general, but not nearly so self congratulatory.
    This commemoration is just beginning to unfold in my awareness, and I’ll have to live with it for a while before I can suggest much more. I can say the OT passage (Proverbs) strikes me as “way too pretty” for the harsh reality of engagement with “the powers” that opposed Wilberforce and Ashley-Cooper, enslaving women, children, factory and mine workers (and still does, as evidenced in frequent news about mine casualties). Perhaps a reading that laments injustice, exile, oppression, from Isaiah could be chosen? As for the epistle, that’s a pivotal theological passage, but something from Revelation, portraying the confrontation with institutionalized evil, would be more to the point. After all, there is an eschatological and proleptic context that addresses and stamps a resurrection character on our efforts at social justice, respect for persons, and holy, compassionate living. The gospel selection, again, is a monumentally significant passage, but in this context it uses children as props and metaphors, rather than zeroing in on the sinful inhumanity of misusing lives, women and children’s as well as men’s, as pawns in a self-aggrandizing and heartless, soulless machine of institutionalized, socially embraced, idolatrous greed.
    I’m beginning to sound like Karl Marx and I much prefer Harpo. I’ll stop, as soon as I add (a) I don’t see why every baptized Christian is not, as such, a “Prophetic Witness,” and (b) I’d rather see the date (1833, 1885) put with each one’s name separately. Printing them together like that, at the end of the title, makes it look like a gravestone: born 1833, died 1885. RIP.

  5. Sam Portaro says:

    Combining these commemorations may have seemed efficient, but unless a stronger case and connection can be made for joining them, they deserve to be separated. Wilberforce is important for what he accomplished regarding the slave trade. Ashley Cooper, whose date places him fifty years later, was instrumental in changing child labor laws. Nothing in the bio suggests any relationship between the men, nor that one influenced the other (except for the add-on note in Cooper’s that says he was opposed to the slave trade.) If justice is the theme (and common thread) then change their designation from “Prophetic Witness” (which, like others, I find an awkward identifier) to something reflective of champions of justice. Otherwise, give each their due and provide opportunities for homilists to address issues of racial injustice and the abuse of children (and women) separately.

  6. Celinda Scott says:

    I think both these men are important additions, and agree that separate feast days would give a better opporunities for what Sam Portaro describes above. –This sentence from the Wilberforce biography is confusing: “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.” I think the writer means to say it was Wilberforce who was “drawn to the evangelical expression” but the way the sentence is written sounds as though it was his political colleagues who were. The paragraph also implies that the “evangelical expression” (the Clapham sect, I think) interfered with his desire for the eradication of the slave trade, and the eventual abolition of slavery. On the contrary, the Clapham sect strengthened his desire to stop the slave trade. Those evangelicals meant business.

  7. John Robison says:

    The collect seems weakened and with far less “punch”
    The gospel reading is disorganized and adding verse 42 tot he other text seems like an attempt to add “umph” but is simply jarring.

  8. Steve Lusk says:

    By combining these two, this ends up as a feast for “Liberal England” or “Anglican abolitionists.” That goes a long way towards explaining the muddled collect. Wilberforce is truly a heroic figure, whom John Wesley, writing from his deathbed to encourage Wilberforce, likened to Athanasius contra mundum. Lord Shaftsbury isn’t in the same league. Go back to the feast as LFF has it and leave Lord S. to All Saint’s.

  9. I’d like to see as much emphasis given to the faih of these two men as to the reforms for which they are famous, and as an Evangelical Episcopalian I’d like to see that aspect of their faith stressed, as both men would certainly have wanted. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography provides some good summaries.

    On Wilberforce:

    “Private prayer and Bible reading were central to his daily routine, and his surviving diaries and journals illustrate the depth of his continual quest for holiness and obedience to the call of God. In the period after his conversion he regularly sought and received counsel from Isaac Milner and John Newton, and as the years passed he himself became a valued spiritual counsellor, notably to the agriculturist Arthur Young, who had been much stirred by reading the Practical View. Wilberforce cultivated a strongly religious tone in family life through holding daily family prayers and anxiously watching over the spiritual development of his children. When in London he worshipped at the Anglican proprietary Lock Chapel near Hyde Park Corner, whose minister from 1785 was the biblical commentator Thomas Scott; at Clapham he attended the parish church, where John Venn was incumbent. Despite its intensity, Wilberforce’s religion was never austere: while reverencing Scott’s ministry he did not imbibe his Calvinism, and, while strongly upholding the observance of Sunday as a day of rest, he saw it as a time for recreation with family and friends as well as for spiritual duties… One of the key reasons for the success of the Practical View was that its call for national spiritual and moral renewal could be read in broad Anglican as well as specific evangelical terms. At the same time he had a natural affinity with dissenters and Methodists, and in 1800 his influence was important in deflecting Pitt from a measure to restrict the licensing of preachers.”

    On Ashley Cooper:

    “Ashley’s growing sense of himself as a lone crusader was undergirded in the course of the 1830s by a deepening of his religious commitment. He had always been a sincere and pious Christian, but his beliefs now assumed an unambiguously evangelical character, sustained in particular by his friendship from 1835 with the leading divine Edward Bickersteth. Ashley became convinced of the imminence of the premillennial second advent of Christ, an expectation which for him engendered a sense not of fatalism, but rather of the urgency of saving souls and of reforming national life so as to mitigate the impact of the coming divine judgment. This conviction remained fundamental to the intensity and passion with which he pursued his numerous concerns.”

    • M McL says:

      Did more for establishing modern day Israel than perhaps anyone.
      ‘The Origins of Christian Zionism” by Donald Lewis. Started spouting about Restoration in 1820s. Landed Anglican consulate in Palestine by 1848.

      M McL: Thank you for your comment. Next time please give your full name. — Ed.

  10. Nigel Renton says:

    The biography of Lord Shaftesbury needs work. Two obvious errors are the omissions of an “e” in his name in the biography.

    The other problem arises because of the niceties of the British peerage. As a son of an earl, he became “Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper” at birth. As the eldest son of an earl, he was entitled to a courtesy title, and at age 10 became “Lord Ashley”. He retained that title until 1851, when his father died, and he inherited the earldom as the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury.

    The shortcomings of the biography can be simply remedied by correcting the spelling, and by inserting some such words as ‘Given the courtesy title of “Lord Ashley”, he was educated at Harrow and Oxford, and became a Member…’

    This would make the references to him as “Lord Ashley” understandable to Americans, without a detailed explanation of the system of courtesy titles.

  11. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    Long ago and far away I wrote a college term paper on Lord Shaftesbury’s work in prison reform. Glad to see him here.
    Cynthia at

  12. Bill Moorhead says:

    Better a year late than….

    I agree with Sam and Celinda — obviously there’s a similarity between Wilberforce and Shaftesbury, but they are both important enough to deserve their own days (especially Wilberforce). Combining them makes it appear that their similar “causes” are more important than the men themselves, which I think is not a direction to go. Nigel makes a good point about Ashley Cooper’s titles.

    Lord Ashley may indeed have been “an outspoken critic of the slave trade,” which no doubt continued during his life and in fact continues yet today. But the slave trade in the British Empire was formally abolished (after Wilberforce’s long campaign) while Lord Ashley was still a child. However, he was apparently a member of Parliament when slavery itself was abolished in the Empire in the 1830’s. (Lord Ashley entered Parliament the same year Wilberforce retired.)

    Woodstock was a pocket borough of the Marlborough family (his mother’s family). Ashley was subsequently elected from Dorset.

    Lord Ashley was president of the British and Foreign Bible Society for many years. Might be worth a mention. In fact, lots of things are worth a mention, all the more reason why he deserves his own day. (Even though as an evangelical he was staunchly anti-ritualist. Oh well!)

    I’m sorry, the Collect is a disaster. On the other hand, the former Collect for Wilberforce is too general and vague, if a good bit more succinct. Wilberforce was committed to a number of important issues of social justice, but the abolition of the slave trade and ultimately of slavery itself must be at the top of the list.

    The HWHM bios are not book reviews, but between the lines Eric Metaxas’ biography of Wilberforce (Amazing Grace) should be a must-read for anyone working on this material.

  13. John Wesley’s last letter was to William Wilberforce, who had been converted under Wesley’s ministry and was a member of Parliament. Wesley expressed his opposition to slavery and encouraged Wilberforce to take action. Parliament finally outlawed England’s participation in the slave trade in 1807. http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/wesley/wilber.stm

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