Faithful Friday: Thomas Burgess

By Ian Wilson (Rated G)

Thomas Burgess was an accomplished Anglican Bishop, theologian, linguist, and abolitionist. He was born on November 18, 1756 in Hampshire to a grocer. He was educated at Odiham Grammar School, before moving on to Winchester and finally to Corpus Christi College at Oxford.

Burgess was ordained a priest in 1789 by the Bishop of Winchester, and thereafter enjoyed an illustrious ecclesiastical career. He published many scholarly works, learned Hebrew and began a very serious study of sacred knowledge. At this time, Burgess was very active in the early Sunday School movement and campaigned against slavery. In 1799, he married a Miss Bright and in 1803, was appointed Bishop of St. David’s. 

St. David’s was a very poor diocese in Wales, populated by simple, working-class folk, many of which barely spoke English. St. David’s diocese was regarded as a “stepping stone” to larger and more wealthy positions, and therefore those who occupied the position were often negligent in the performance of their duties. Not Thomas Burgess. Burgess immediately began a vigorous reform campaign in the diocese, starting schools to educate the poor, and prepare clergy for the ministry. In 1804, he founded the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and Church Union in the Diocese of St. David’s, which raised the standard of education for the region. He also founded libraries where books were made available to those who otherwise would not afford them. In 1822, Burgess laid the foundation of St. David‘s College at Lampeter in Cardiganshire, which then opened 1827, further raising the standard of education in the diocese. Bishop Burgess considered this his greatest work and continued to watch the college with considerable interest throughout the rest of his life. 

Unfortunately, in 1825, Thomas Burgess was moved to the diocese of Salisbury, and was unable to personally oversee the completion of his work. However, he had lost no zeal for the work of the ministry. He created a massive body of written works, including theological and devotional treatises, sermons, tracts and other works. 

In 1835, Burgess suffered a stroke. His health declined until his eventual death in 1837.

May we all have the same zeal as Thomas Burgess.

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