As you enter All Saints' Chapel in Sewanee, Tennessee, a commanding figure looks down from a stained glass window on the left wall. This figure is not Jesus, or Mary, or any of the Apostles. He was not a priest or a bishop or a missionary to some far-flung corner of the earth. No -- he is William Wilberforce, a baptized person who took his baptism seriously.
It's a little early in the church year for me to be discussing the life of William Wilberforce, since his commemoration on our calendar is July 30. But I feel I must say a word, because the new movie "Amazing Grace" depicts his life and times. If it were July 30, I would probably be quoting the Episcopal commemoration of this hero of the faith. In part, it goes like this:
"The life of William Wilberforce refutes the popular notion that a politician cannot be a saintly Christian, dedicated to the service of humanity. Wilberforce was born into an affluent family in Hull, Yorkshire, England on August 24, 1759, and was educated at St. John's College, Cambridge. In 1780, he was elected to the House of Commons, and he served in it until 1825. He died in London, July 29, 1833, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
"His conversion to an evangelical Christian life occurred in 1784, several years after he entered Parliament. Fortunately, he was induced by his friends not to abandon his political activities after this inward change in his life, but thereafter he steadfastly refused to accept high office.
"He gave himself unstintingly to the promotion of overseas missions, popular education, and the reformation of public manners and morals. He also supported parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. Above all, his fame rests upon his persistent, uncompromising, and single-minded crusade for the abolition of slavery and the slave-trade. That sordid traffic was abolished in 1807. He died just one month before Parliament put an end to slavery in the British dominions."
Good line in the movie: Wilberforce says, "God has found me. Do you know how inconvenient that is?"
Here is the prayer for the day on which we remember this man in the stained glass window:
"Let your continual mercy, O Lord, kindle in your Church the never-failing gift of love, that, following the example of your servant William Wilberforce, we may have grace to defend the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."
The Rev. Linda McCloud
The Episcopal Church of Our Savior at Honey Creek