William Wilberforce has become a hero of mine. He spent his career fighting slavery and other injustices in parliament, and also played a role in the formation of the Bible Society, the Church Mission Society, and many other worthwhile endeavours.

How was he able to achieve so much in one lifetime? Part of the answer is that he did not work alone. Wilberforce was part of a unique Christian community, drawn from talented Christians who came from all walks of life, and whom later generations have named the Clapham Sect.


Members of the Clapham Sect

William Wilberforce: Politician; parliamentary leader of the abolition cause; campaigner on a number of other issues.

Henry Thornton: Successful and wealthy banker; an MP and adviser to the government on economic theory; chairman of the Sierra Leone Company; treasurer of a number of Clapham Sect initiatives.

Hannah More: Successful writer who had plays performed at the West End in London but became disillusioned with London society life and moved to the West Country; she and her sisters ran a series of schools providing free education; she wrote numerous stories and pieces of literature on behalf of the Clapham Sect.

James Stephen: Lawyer practising in Barbados until 1797, then moved to Clapham; provided the Clapham Sect with detailed information on the barbaric conditions of slavery in the West Indies; helped Wilberforce draft many of his bills.

Zachary Macaulay: Governor of Sierra Leone who moved to Clapham in 1799; secretary for a number of Clapham Sect initiatives; editor of The Christian Observer and the Anti-Slavery Reporter.

Charles Grant: Chairman of the East India Company; provided information to the Clapham Sect on conditions in India.

Lord Teignmouth: Governor-General of British India; provided information on conditions in India; became President of the Bible Society.

John Venn: Vicar of Clapham; preached many of the sermons they listened to each Sunday and provided spiritual leadership and encouragement to the group.

Thomas Gisborne: Clergyman, poet, philosopher and writer based at Yoxhall Lodge in Staffordshire.

Thomas Babington: Country gentleman who owned Rothley Temple in Leicestershire, later an MP; led a parliamentary campaign to ban the lottery.

There were others they worked with, such as Thomas and John Clarkson, Granville Sharp, and later on Thomas Fowell Buxton, but the above group were a core community who lived in each other’s houses, shared their lives with each other, and worked as brothers and sisters on a series of measures that changed the world.

Who are you working with, as brothers and sisters? Who is part of your community, so that you’re not trying to change the world on your own? It’s much less tiring and much more healthy and fun to be part of a group of people serving God together, rather than acting as a lone ranger.

Click for more information on the One Rock biography William Wilberforce: Achieving the Impossible, available from Amazon, and other book sellers.

Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s an experienced leadership trainer, author of biographies on John Wesley and William Wilberforce, and is also passionate about praying for London. He enjoys good films, good food, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markonerock.

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