I’m getting towards the busy season in my biography on William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was part of a group of friends that became known as the Clapham Sect, and that worked together to change the face of Britain, and the British Empire.
Among their many achievements, they successfully campaigned to abolish the transatlantic slave trade, they established a province on the West African coast that was free from slavery, they reversed the ban that had declared sending missionaries to India to be illegal, they helped found the Bible Society and the Church Mission Society, they set up a Christian magazine, and they helped establish Sunday Schools across the UK.
They achieved all this because they worked together as a community. But also, because they were a set of talented people, spread across the different key spheres that affected the national life. Core members of the Clapham Sect included:
William Wilberforce: Wilberforce was the leader and parliamentary champion of the group. He was one of the best political speakers of the age, and was close friends with Prime Minister William Pitt and many other senior government officials. His role was to provide the eloquence and inspiration in the House of Commons to get through the legislation the Clapham Sect campaigned for.
Henry Thornton: Thornton was a businessman. More than that, he was a partner and owner in one of the most successful banks of the period. He also became an MP, and a key government adviser on economics and monetary policy. His main role at the Clapham Sect was to act as treasurer of their various societies, and help bankroll many of their projects.
Hannah More: More was one of the greatest writers of the age. She was friends with Samuel Johnson and David Garrick, and an influential figure on London’s West End and literary life. But after an evangelical conversion she shunned the city, and moved to a country retreat in Somerset. She ran Sunday Schools that educated thousands of children, and used her pen to support the Clapham Sect campaigns through novels, tracts and pamphlets.
James Stephen: A lawyer who had spent time in the West Indies, Stephen came to London with a burning hatred for slavery, and became the great legal expert of group. He advised Wilberforce on tactics in the Commons, and helped draft many of the bills the group presented to Parliament.
Zachary Macaulay: Macaulay first met the group as governor of their Sierra Leone experiment. When he moved to Clapham, he became indispensable to the group as editor of the magazine they founded, ‘The Christian Observer’, and also as secretary for many of the activities they took in hand.
John Venn: The local Clapham vicar, Venn provided spiritual input and leadership for the group. Slightly removed from their political campaigns, but at the centre of their spiritual lives, his sermons and devotions were often the inspiration that helped them keep going through the years of rejection and failure they each endured.
There were others too; other clergymen, other politicians, other writers, other senior public officials. All drawn from different spheres, but all working together to transform society, and further the Kingdom of God. The Clapham Sect was so powerful because it drew together influential people from different spheres, but all committed to working together on their shared goals.
How many people from different professions do you know? Why not invite round for dinner together all your friends who are involved in politics, business, the law, the media, the arts, the church, and maybe some other spheres – and then conspire together on how you can change the world?
Mark Williamson also blogs regularly at One Rock International, a training organisation resourcing missionary leaders across the globe. He’s passionate about good films, good food, getting into deep conversations, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna.