My purpose in writing this article was to dive beneath the form and ritual we often read about in the religious activities of Georgian England, and get to the hearts of the men and women living at that time to explore their beliefs and the meaning of their faith to their lives. I found it a daunting task, and finally decided the only evidence I could provide of what was in their hearts was to look at the actions that resulted from their faith (or lack of it). I approach this issue as a person of faith myself, hence I am not looking to discredit, but rather to shed light on what was happening to the church that influenced the people of England, both rich and poor, in matters of faith during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
|John Wesley preaching|
To reach the aristocracy, the countess brought the leading preachers of the day into her home and invited her friends and acquaintances to hear them. A number of noble and influential people came to faith in this way. All of them were most likely members of the Church of England even before their conversion. In 1746, the countess’s husband died, and at 39, she threw herself into her work with even greater zeal. When she was in London, she held services in her home, inviting the evangelical preachers of her day to speak to her friends. In furtherance of her efforts, she leased properties in several strategic centres throughout the country and regularly held services there. She built chapels, too, for “her preachers” including one in Bath.
At the end of the 18th century, a group of wealthy Anglican Evangelicals came together, most of them living in the village of Clapham southwest of London, to campaign for an end to slavery and cruel sports, prison reform and foreign missions. They were dubbed “the saints,” a name which no doubt amused them, since according to the Bible, all believers are “saints.” They were an illustrious group: Henry Venn, rector and founder of the group; John Venn, rector and the founder’s son; William Wilberforce, friend of both John Newton and Prime Minister William Pitt, and the statesman who successfully fought against slavery; Henry Thornton, the financier; Charles Simeon, rector at Cambridge; Granville Sharp, a lawyer and founder of the St. George’s Bay Company, a forerunner of the Sierra Leone Company; Zachary Macaulay, estate manager and Governor of Sierra Leone (established as a homeland for emancipated slaves); John Shore, Lord Teignmouth, formerly Governor-General of India; James Stephen, lawyer, Wilberforce’s brother-in-law and author of the Slave Trade Act of 1807; Charles Grant, Chairman of the East India Company; and Hannah More, poet and playwright, who produced tracts for the group.
What motivated them? William Wilberforce’s views here are helpful. In his book, “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country Contrasted with Real Christianity,” which was published in 1798, and by 1826 had gone through 15 editions in England alone, he speaks of a “true Christian” as one discharging a debt of gratitude to God for the grace he has received. Likely his views mirrored those of his fellow Clapham group members when he said,
They are not their own: their bodily and mental faculties, their natural and acquired endowments, their substance, their authority, their time, their influence, all these they consider. . .to be consecrated to the honor of God and employed in His service.The Clapham group certainly put their faith into action. One of their primary concerns was foreign missions, taking seriously Christ’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Among their achievements: the Religious Tract Society founded in 1799; the Society for Missions to Africa and the East (now the Church Missionary Society) founded in 1799; and the British and Foreign Bible Society, founded in 1804. The latter circulated the Bible in England and abroad. With funding from the Clapham group, Hannah More established twelve schools by 1800 where reading, the Bible and the catechism were taught to local children. She also wrote ethical books.
Sunday schools arose in the 1780s teaching Bible stories to children. It was the idea of Robert Raikes, the curate of Mary le Crypt Church in Gloucester. His purpose was to teach local children to read and write. The idea spread rapidly; by 1797, there were 1,086 schools in England teaching 69,000 children.
Bestselling author Regan Walker loved to write stories as a child, particularly those about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who taps his subjects for “special assignments.” In each of her novels, there is always real history and real historic figures.
Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses.
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Written content of this post copyright © Regan Walker, 2015.