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Thought for the weekend


By Rev Gareth Burke

How are you getting on with the Christmas traffic? It's crazy, isn't it? I reckon that most journeys take about three times longer than normal at this time of year. I've found the best way to cope is to just recognise that things are moving slowly and then to listen in to the radio or a CD while driving.

Last Tuesday I happened to come across a programme on BBC Radio 4 entitled Great Lives. The programme was presented by Matthew Parris, joined in the studio by broadcaster Jeremy Paxman and Nicholas Ashley-Cooper, the twelfth Earl of Shaftesbury. These three men were considering the life of the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885) who, in his day, was a well-known politician and statesman.

That Lord Shaftesbury was born in London into a wealthy and privileged family. Despite being well provided for materially, Shaftesbury would often refer to his childhood in very negative terms. His biographer, G F A Best, says he knew "no parental love" and that he found his parents 'formal and frightening'.

In 1826, Shaftesbury entered Parliament where he almost immediately became a figure of some influence. He was passionately concerned about the poor working conditions that prevailed in the factories and the mines, especially the conditions being experienced by women and children. He was involved with those who were trying to improve the appalling way in which the mentally deranged were treated and he had a particular concern to stop the practice of young boys being used as chimney sweeps.

Throughout his parliamentary career he campaigned on these issues and was successful, over time, in seeing a series of Acts passed which led to better working conditions for many men, women and children.

What motivated him? What compelled him to fight for the disadvantaged and marginalised? A living personal faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Shaftesbury was an evangelical Christian whose faith affected every part of his living including his work in parliament. Interestingly, as a young boy, he had heard of Jesus Christ and of the need to be saved from his sins through the family housekeeper, Maria Mills. She showed him Jesus by her words and her life.

When we see what Shaftesbury achieved we are moved when we recognise that it all began with the witness of a faithful housekeeper.

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