Tag Archives: England

10 Things You Don’t Know about the Clapham Sect


From Wikimedia

Attending the Q Conference in Boston this past week, I was reminded that almost any evangelical who wants to leverage their vocation to change the world takes William Wilberforce’s Clapham group as a sort of knights-of-the-round-table paradigm. But few seem to know much about this remarkable group. So as a public service, here’s my . . .

10 Things You Don’t Know about the Clapham Sect

First the basics: The Clapham Sect was a group of aristocratic evangelical Anglicans, prominent in England from about 1790 to 1830, who campaigned for the abolition of slavery (among many other causes) and promoted missionary work at home and abroad. The group centered on the church of John Venn, rector of Clapham in south London.

Today these activists are frequently held up as an example of Christian social-justice reform to be emulated. It’s always good to know a few things about someone you’re going to emulate, so here are 10 things you probably don’t know about the Clapham Sect:

  1. Aside from the great parliamentarian William Wilberforce and several other MPs, the group also included a
    Wilberforce, from Wikimedia.

    Wilberforce, from Wikimedia

    brewer, a banker, several clergymen, the father of the great English historian Thomas Babington Macaulay (Zachary Macaulay), and the great-grandfather of Virginia Woolf (James Stephen). Two of its prominent members were women: the evangelist Katherine Hankey and the writer and philanthropist Hannah More. . (Read more about More in this wonderful new biography of her by Karen Swallow Prior.)

  2. The term “Clapham Sect” was a later invention by James Stephen in an article of 1844 which celebrated and romanticized the work of these reformers. In their own time the group used no particular name, but they were lampooned by outsiders as “the saints.”
  3. Though they were of aristocratic background and many of held positions of power and influence, the Clapham group’s involvement in the abolition cause brought significant social stigma on their heads. The English ruling classes viewed abolitionists as radical and dangerous, similar to French revolutionaries of the day

Continued at the Patheos Faith & Work Channel

In anticipation of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version: A brief review of God’s Secretaries


Frontispiece to the King James Bible, 1611, sh...

Frontispiece to the King James Bible, 1611, shows the Twelve Apostles at the top.

Sorry for the brief hiatus in blog posting—I’ve been off in Atlanta at the Society for Biblical Literature there—to be precise, at a symposium at that conference dedicated to the history of the King James Version of the Bible. Next year is the 400th anniversary of the first publication of the KJV, and scholarly and popular forces are massing to commemorate it.

A friend had written a paper on the history of the KJV (to be precise, a history of opposition to the KJV) but found himself unable to deliver it at Atlanta, and so asked me to go in his place. Among the high points of that visit was meeting Dr. David Norton, author of the forthcoming The King James Bible: A Short History from Tyndale to Today and other books on the KJV. Said a conferee: “In the field of KJV studies, Norton is #1, and there is no #2!” Norton is a gracious Brit now living in Wellington, NZ (of which he showed us a slide—LOTR country sure is beautiful).

For reasons I am not yet, as they say, “at liberty to divulge,” the King James Version of the Bible is my intensive study these days. One part of that has been to read the splendidly readable and informative book by Adam Nicolson: God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible (2003). Continue reading

Anglican bishops operating as Catholic priests? What next, cats and dogs living together?


Benedict XVI with the Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abbey

Any headline involving the words “Oxford professor” (turns out it’s a church history professor, too!) and “hissy fit” has me intrigued, to say the least. Add the fact that I had no idea what an “Ordinariate” is, and I jumped right on this article from the London Telegraph’s blogsite. But first, to understand that oddball (to me) term, I had to read another article, about Church of England bishops jumping ship to become Roman Catholic:

The Archbishop of Canterbury is expected to announce this week that two Church of England bishops are becoming Roman Catholics. Continue reading

Retired bishop calls for Christian history teaching in British schools


With the Bishop of Rochester

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, with the Bishop of Rochester

From an article in a British Christian online magazine. Though I am always suspicious when someone starts talking about “Judeo-Christian values” (there’s a lot of slipperiness in this language), I like this guy 🙂 . Also, based on my own recent research into the origins of hospitals in the West, I have to agree with his statement (see below) that the nursing profession as we know it is Christian in origin. Finally, his examination of the origins of modern British systems of law and governance fascinate–I’ll be looking into the details of his narrative . . .

If school kids don’t learn more about Britain’s Judeo-Christian heritage we risk losing our national values, a bishop has warned.

The Rt Revd Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali said: “The Judaeo-Christian tradition provides the connecting link to ‘our island story’”.

Children should know about the role of Christians in abolishing the slave trade, caring for the sick and improving working conditions, the former Bishop of Rochester said in an article for Standpoint magazine. Continue reading

Medieval English churches–at least save them for historical reasons . . .


A sad reflection on non-religious reasons to preserve the hundreds of English churches with almost a millennium of history and only a handful of worshipers.

Sometimes ministry is war: The remarkable ministry of Charles Simeon


One of my favorite people from the Patron Saints for Postmoderns book is the early 19th-century Cambridge pastor and mentor Charles Simeon. A curmudgeon, perhaps, with evident character flaws (albeit softened by increasing humility as he grew older), Simeon is perhaps most praiseworthy for sticking out a very difficult ministry in a very difficult time to be a “gospel preacher” in the England’s Established Church:

Destined to Wage War

The timing was both auspicious and difficult. If John Newton’s time was the gawky adolescence of the evangelical church in England, then Charles Simeon’s time was the movement’s early manhood—but it was a challenging manhood. During the early 1800s the movement, begun nearly a century before, was sustaining heavy damage from political intrigue within England’s state church, from an apathetic and dwindling Anglican membership, and from a continuation of the same internal struggles that had marred Newton’s day—Arminian vs. Calvinist, Established Church vs. nonconformist. It was beginning to look as though “gospel Christianity” had seen its day in its birthplace, and the calmer, more reasonable and less activist faith of the Deists and their ilk would swallow up the movement in its very cradle.

But not if Charles Simeon could help it.

Striding resolutely from his rooms at Kings to preach at Holy Trinity, only five feet eight inches tall but “accustomed to ‘bearing himself so well he seemed taller,’” Simeon walked with a hint of a swagger. He wore an ensemble on the showy side of formal, including a “short black coat, breeches and gaiters, black gloves, white ruffled shirt and voluminous preaching gown trailing behind.” Under his arm he tucked a fancy umbrella. Continue reading