Clergy and congregations are being asked to celebrate the life and animal welfare work of William Wilberforce this Animal Welfare Sunday (Sunday 7 October 2007).
Wilberforce was also remembered earlier this year in the film ‘Amazing Grace’ for his part in ending the slave trade 200 years ago.
A keen supporter of animal welfare, Wilberforce helped set up the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on 16 June 1824. It was the first national animal protection organisation and helped enforce a new law to prevent cruelty to cattle, sheep and horses. Queen Victoria later allowed the Society to use the word ‘Royal’ in its title because she was so impressed with its work.
The RSPCA has since become the biggest animal welfare charity in the world.
Oxford theologian the Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey said: “William Wilberforce is rightly celebrated for his pioneering work that led to the abolition of the slave trade 200 years ago, but it’s not always remembered that he was also a leading light in the campaign against animal cruelty.”
The RSPCA came into existence as the result of Christian vision. A London vicar, the Reverend Arthur Broome, called the meeting that led to the foundation of the Society. Its first minute book records the declaration that: “the proceedings of this Society are entirely based on the Christian Faith and on Christian Principles”.
Professor Linzey added: “We tend to forget that the movement for a cruelty-free world owes much to luminaries like Wilberforce and Broome. They faced public ridicule and strong opposition in their work for animals, but they soldiered on. We best honour Wilberforce and his colleagues by following their example.”
In the first week of October each year, hundreds of churches of all denominations hold animal services or animal blessing services. Animals are brought into church to be blessed and clergy are encouraged to preach about responsibility for the care of creation. Thursday 4 October is the World Day for Animals and also St Francis’ Day.
The RSPCA has published a Service for Animal Welfare, written by Professor Linzey, for use by clergy and congregations.
Copies of the service are available from the RSPCA’s enquiries department on 0300 1234 555