The Life of William Wilberforce
by Manon Ceridwen James
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To explore patience as a fruit of the spirit.
Preparation and materials
- If possible, find the film Amazing Grace (2006, directed by Michael Apted) and have the means available to play a clip from the end, showing the bill for the abolition of slavery being passed, in the ‘Assembly’, Step 8. If this is not possible, read a plot summary so you can describe what happens.
- Familiarize yourself generally with William Wilberforce’s life story.
- Explain to the children that you are going to think about the word ‘patience’. Link it to the previous assemblies on the fruits of the spirit if you have used them.
Discuss how patience is difficult. We find it frustrating having to wait for things. How do they feel the week before their birthday when they have to wait to open their presents? Have their parents or teachers ever told them that they need to have patience?
- Explain that you are going to be showing a clip from the film Amazing Grace or thinking about the story of the film, as appropriate.
It is a story about a famous campaigner called William Wilberforce, who spent decades fighting against slavery.
- Ask if they knew that, a few hundred years ago, people in this country thought it was all right to go to different countries, steal people and sell them as slaves? It was big business and a lot of people made a lot of money. Little by little, however, people began to realize that this was very wrong.
William Wilberforce led a long campaign to get it abolished (stopped). He faced a lot of opposition from politicians and businessmen.
- The film starts with a very ill William Wilberforce on holiday in Bath with his cousin, Henry Thornton. It is there that he is introduced to his future wife, Barbara Spooner. He tells her the story of his life up to then and the film flashes back 15 years to 1782 and William recounts the events that led him to where he is now.
- He was an ambitious and popular Member of Parliament (MP) and was persuaded by his friends, William Pitt, Thomas Clarkson, Hannah More and others, to put a bill forward to outlaw the slave trade. This made him very unpopular in the House of Commons among the Members of Parliament representing cities that made a lot of money out of slavery – especially London, Bristol and Liverpool.
We learn that this fight has led to him suffering exhaustion and severe frustration because he doesn’t get anywhere and his bills all fail. He becomes ill with a stomach problem and, having virtually given up hope, he considers leaving politics forever.
- Barbara convinces him to keep fighting because he is one of the few people able to carry this through. A few days afterwards, William and Barbara marry and William, with the support of his new wife and a new sense of hope, starts the fight again.
- In time, after many attempts to bring in legislation for 20 years, he is eventually responsible for a bill being passed through Parliament in 1807 that abolished the slave trade in the British Empire forever.
- Show the clip at the end of the film Amazing Grace, if using. This is a very moving ending – there is great joy and celebration that finally this evil has been abolished forever.
- This had been a long fight for Wilberforce, however, who was exhausted and ill as a result of working hard for this important bill. It was worth it in the end, though.
- Wilberforce must have had a lot of patience and very strong belief that the right thing would happen in the end as it took a long, long time. Today, we can’t imagine living in a country that thinks it is possible to own other people as slaves or buy and sell other human beings as if they were our or others’ property.
Time for reflection
Sometimes we can feel tired or sad when we want something to happen and it doesn’t.
Sometimes, just because we think something is wrong doesn’t mean other people will agree with us, even if we are right. Think of a situation in which a group of friends is being unkind to one friend and you are the only person sticking up for them. Sometimes doing the right thing will make us unpopular, but we should still do it.
We thank you for inspiring people such as William Wilberforce, who fought for what was right.
We pray for people in our world today who are treated badly.
Help us to see that we too need patience and to keep standing up for what is right, even if it makes us unpopular.
‘Amazing grace’ (Hymns Old and New (Kevin Mayhew), 34, 2008 edition)