Page 3, 9th April 1976

9th April 1976
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Page 3, 9th April 1976 — Thriving on life as a big-city bishop

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Thriving on life as a big-city bishop

THERE has been much talk of the problems which the newly-appointed Archbishop Worlock will have to face in the huge Archdiocese of Liverpool. His Anglican counterpart, BISHOP DAVID SIIEPPA RD, spoke to Richard Dowden on how he sees the difficulties of Christian mission in the big cities.

The former England cricket captain, David Sheppard, now the Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, is not a man of pastures green. He worked for 20 years in working-class London, and his present diocese has similar boundaries and burdens to its Catholic counterpart.

Bishop Sheppard says: "I wouldn't have gone to a diocese that wasn't heavily urban. My interest and my heart has been in the big city for a long time. All the greatest problems of our country lie in the inner city." The author of a book called "Built as a City: God and the Urban World," David Sheppard has a profound grasp of the difficulties which traditionally presented Christianity finds in the inner city.

He does not accept that the Church of England flourishes only in sleepy villages and that only Methodism and Catholicism survive among the urban working class.

"People seem to believe that one day someone will write the Magic Service and that everyone will come 'hack to church'. It's my belief that they were never there,

"To be fair, you must compare the Church of England, not with the Catholic Church in this country but with the Catholic Church in France, for example.

"When people were being sucked into British cities and towns the poorer Catholics were an Irish community, corning from a country where the rulers are English.

"Had they been the same sort of people coming to Paris, they would have seen devout Church people in positions of power: millowners and mineowners, who were doing nothing about the injustices that were going on.

"There would have been the same degree of alienation as there was here for the Anglicans. My belief is that the Church will never be taken seriously by people at the w rang end of the system until we are seen to stand for justice, even though it is to our own disadvantage."

1 asked Bishop Sheppard whether he saw the Church as a missionary Church in the inner cities.

Like most Church of England clergy, David Sheppard is quick to find the apt biblical touchstone. "When Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon he said to them: 'Settle down in the land, seek its welfare, for in its welfare lies your welfare.' There is no welfare for the people of God apart from the welfare of the city they live in."

Fatalism, he feels, is the greatest harrier to giving people a sense of being able to make choices for their own lives.

"If you live in Everton, and I ask what you feel about a good and purposeful God, it's no use saying that there's a nice Creator, God, over there out at sea or in sunsets in the hills. "Creation is where you are. Big cities exist, and we had better work out ways of making them more human places. So often the people who plan them or make money in them, retreat as far away from them as they can, instead of living there and making the experience good." Bishop Sheppard feels as new as Archbishop Worlock to the Liverpool scene, and declined the offer to publicise any advice he might like to offer him.

He remembers spending a long evening with him when Fr Worlock was at St Mary and St Michael, Commercial Road, and he was at Canning Town, just talking about people in the East End of London and Christian mission there.

"I'm delighted he's here, and I look forward very much to a partnership with him," Inter-Church relations in Liverpool are both better and worse than anywhere Bishop Sheppard has been before. "There's a warmth and closeness, which isn't just superficial, at the top level which Derek and I are inheriting.

"At other levels, too, there are some groups learning together, such as the urban theology group which looks at Christian mission in the city.

"But there are some places I know in the city where clergy hide behind sayings like 'I can't go too fast for my people.' They would feel it strange to ask a Catholic priest to their Church."

I asked whether this could have the same roots as the sectarianism of Northern Ireland.

"It's got the same roots. I take Northern Ireland as a cautionary tale. We mustn't let ourselves be wrapped up in our own life and merely tolerate the `others' being there.

"Because if something goes wrong, as it did tragically in Northern Ireland, the Churches can only do something if they know each other well enough. But there arc better motives, I don't want the Anglican answer to issues such as work or homelessness; I want a Christian response to it."

Bishop Sheppard's reasons for not describing what he would say if asked to give a "State of the Nation" speech were far more challenging than anything he could have preached to the country.

"Generalisations about the nation," he explained, "usually come from people who can identify themselves with the good of the nation. Most of those people hope that we are about to enter an economic `go' period.

"Now I'm conscious of peo ple who live in the inner city for whom the `stop-go' policy is disastrous. Much of the city of Liverpool has suffered as much in a 'go' period as in a 'stop' period. So it doesn't surprise me that many people feel they don't have a stake in the wellbeing of the country.

"We've got to do more than reassert the old values because they allowed gross inequality of opportunity." Back to the Old Testament again, Bishop Sheppard found a disturbing irony in the saying frequently display at roadside pulpits: "Righteousness exalteth a nation."

He said: "I wonder what is meant by that, either by the people who put them up or who read them. I suspect that they think of being reliable, honest, hard-working, chaste and so forth.

"Whereas the biblical word for righteousness has a very particular meaning. It's not the blind goddess on the Old Bailey giving out even-handed justice for all: it means that there is a built-in bias toppling over in favour of those at a disadvantage.

"It's the living God with His eyes open, seeing a needy group and coming to the rescue. It's no good thinking that God will

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B• ig city bishop Continued from Page 3

somehow. bless our country, whatever that means: economic growth doesn't follow from what I see in the Bible.

"There needs to be a built-in bias, a positive discrimination, and the disadvantaged should he put first." David Sheppard is a Bishop who leads rather than rules but his charisma lies in his openness and immediate warmth which is at Once engaging and challenging.

When I suggested to him that one of the big differences between himself and his Catholic counterpart was that he had a wife and Archbishop Warlock hadn't, and asked him what the disadvantages were, he laughed with clear delight.

But he did not do so to put me off. He wanted to say that there were many situations in his diocese which needed unmarried clergy, and that celibate clergy had an availability and freedom that perhaps he didn't have. "But I feel marriage has made me face up to a lot of things about myself and about God which 1 wouldn't have faced otherwise.

"For example, my wife went through a very tough nervous illness soon after we were married and I recall that the last time I played cricket, a master who had known me well at school was watching. I was out for nothing, and he came over and we sat and talked.

"I told him that I thought my wife, Grace, was a much more sensitive person than I was and that I was a bit thick-skinned. He said very quickly: 'You weren't as a boy'.

"He opened a little window on myself and I realised that I had been a very sensitive boy and then had learned to cope with boarding school and being successful in sport and becoming an Army officer and being an international sportsman and that there had been an overlay of coping.

"Grace's illness not only made me aware of what was happening in her but made me uncover whole parts of me. i owe much to those years and to the partnership that grew up between us then.

"I learnt about having to communicate with somebody else at quite a deep level about the sort of things that one is afraid of or ashamed of.

"It's helped me to understand a great deal of what Christian Salvation is all about. It doesn't protect you or keep you going through life calmly and serenely, but you find that Christ is experiencing the suffering with you.

"That's the level at which my marriage has meant something to my ministry."

1 left Bishop David Sheppard with the feeling that with his and Archbishop Warlock's appointments in Liverpool, though the wicket may be cutting up, you couldn't ask for a finer partnership at this stage of the game.

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