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Home > Wilberforce Study Transitions to Personal Devotions

Wilberforce Study Transitions to Personal Devotions

December 4th, 2009

By Sarah Pride

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722

“I have a presentation in Principles of Biblical Reasoning tonight,” the student announced to the group. “You can pray about that,”

A chuckle of commiseration arose around the table. Jeff Good, a member of PHC’s Information Technology department, nodded and added the sophomore’s prayer request to his list.

“All right then,” he began, “what do we think of Hannah More?”

Professors and students share close interactions at Patrick Henry College, in Christian Study Groups and beyond

And with that ensued a lively discussion on More and other members of the “Clapham Circle” from late-eighteenth-century England. As on every Tuesday morning across campus this fall semester, small “Christian Study Groups” (CSGs) led by PHC faculty and staff examined and discussed one of history’s great movements of faith-directed societal reform. The PHC community has tackled portions from Creating the Better Hour: Lessons from William Wilberforce, a collection of essays edited by Chuck Stetson that outlines the life, times, and accomplishments of the Clapham Circle.

This group of close friends, all evangelical Christians, was largely responsible for helping to abolish the British slave trade, among many other reforms the Circle instituted in late-eighteenth-century England. The group also opened doors for the impoverished to receive an education, reformed prisons, reignited a culture of “manners,” furthered missions work, and much more. According to Stetson, they “made a much better world, a much more civilized world. They turned a decadent world into a civilized one that became Victorian England.”

More than 200 years later, many have never heard of the Clapham Circle. And the only reason it may strike a chord in collective memory is because of the 2006 feature film Amazing Grace about Wilberforce’s life and accomplishments. For a motivated group of young people seeking to make a difference in the world, examining the Clapham Circle’s commitment and tenacity despite its lack of universal fame can be both inspiring and humbling.

Freshman David Personius found the realism of the Clapham Circle refreshing. Along with the chance to get to know Dean of Student Life Sandra Corbitt and Dean of Academic Affairs Dr. Laura McCollum, he appreciated his CSG because it “reinforced that changing the culture isn’t always about becoming a household name.”

“You can change the culture without being a rock star,” he noted.

Similarly, junior Megan Wenger noted that she “appreciated looking back in history at Wilberforce and the Clapham Circle, seeing what they did and how we can apply their strategies today.”

Chuck Stetson, who himself has helped found several culture-changing activities, including a Bible literacy program for public schools in 43 states, visited PHC mid-semester to speak in chapel and deliver an afternoon seminar. He led a few dozen students through a leadership training exercise.

“You want to be so valuable to your community that, even if people disagree with you or dislike you, they don’t want to proceed without you,” Stetson declared.

Now, in this latter part of the school semester, CSGs have transitioned to a time of personal devotions, allowing students dedicated time to study the Bible on their own, pray, or otherwise draw closer to God.

“At this busiest time of the semester,” explained PHC Provost Dr. Gene Edward Veith, quoting Psalm 46, “it is especially helpful to ‘be still and know that I am God.’ Students often complain that, given the demands of PHC life, they have no time for personal devotions. So we are giving them that time.”

Provost Veith introduced the move from Stetson’s book to personal devotions with a special Monday chapel session. Hoping to show students how to have an effective time of prayer and meditation on God’s Word, he shared some of what he does in his own personal time with God. He read slowly through a Psalm, reasoning what each part meant and lifting praise or supplication to God as fitted the words.

“[This chapel session] built up my faith for personal devotions,” said junior Brady Kauk. “It’s been especially hard to put time aside for them this semester, and sometimes it is hard to believe God will meet me there.”

And freshman Aaron Strassner is looking forward to his Tuesday mornings and his scheduled time with God. “We’ve got to keep up our relationship with God,” he said. “He’s the reason we’re here.”