David Sheppard

 

David Stuart Sheppard, born in Surrey in 1929, was best known as Bishop of Liverpool in the Church of England between 1975 and 1997. Also well known as a cricketer in his youth, he was an intermittent Test player (22 caps between 1950 and 1963), captaining England twice and a leading figure in the campaign which succeeded in getting apartheid South Africa banned from international cricket. Sheppard remains the only ordained minister to have played Test cricket.

Educated at Sherborne, his early cricket career was for Sussex, then for Cambridge while reading history at Trinity Hall, gaining his first England cap in 1950. While an undergraduate he underwent a profound conversion to evangelical Christianity. Following National Service as a second lieutenant in the Royal Sussex Regiment he underwent theological training at Ridley Hall and was ordained in 1955. He married Grace Isaac in 1957.

After his first appointment as curate at St Mary’s Islington he spent eleven years as warden of an inner city mission in Canning Town, East London, the Mayflower Family Centre. Here, he was influenced by local people, notably George Burton, a maverick youth worker from Glasgow who made a lasting impression on Sheppard’s approach to inner-city mission.

He continued to play Test cricket on and off until 1963 and as an opening batsman his sporting career had ‘toughened’ him and built courage. Living in the East End had opened his eyes to injustice but it was in a sporting context that he first entered public controversy. He became a leading figure in the fight to get apartheid South Africa banned from international cricket. When he refused to captain the Duke of Norfolk's XI against the visiting white South African team in 1960, he became the first Test cricketer to make a public stand on the issue, saying "I do not regard cricket in South Africa as a non-political game. …. as a cricketer and a Christian, I would be wrong to keep silent." In 1968 he took the lead in the challenge against the MCC in the D’Oliviera affair, after which the England team did not tour South Africa for a further 27 years.

He became Bishop of Woolwich, in the Diocese of Southwark, in 1969, working alongside other Anglican churchmen inspired by the radical theology, 'South Bank religion’, whose most famous expression was the book Honest to God (1963) by John Robinson, his predecessor at Woolwich. Southwark at this time was led by Bishop Mervyn Stockwood, who, from his arrival in 1959, had a vision for training Christians to take ministry from the church out into society, inspired by the French worker priest model. During this period, Sheppard published Built as a City (1973).

He was made Bishop of Liverpool in 1975, arriving only months before Archbishop Derek Worlock who was appointed to Liverpool in 1976. Along with Worlock he dedicated himself to the needs of the city in a time of crisis and was an outspoken critic of Margaret Thatcher's government. More is written about their joint work in The Sheppard Worlock Years in these pages.

He was an active broadcaster, commentator and campaigner, especially on the subjects of poverty, unemployment and social reform in the inner cities. In his Dimbleby Lecture of 1984, The Other Britain he warned about the contrast between the affluence of ‘comfortable Britain’ and the urban poor. He published another book, Bias to the Poor in 1982. As a founder member and vice chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Commission on Urban Priority Areas, he was the leading advocate and spokesman of the influential Faith in the City report, published in 1985 and roundly dismissed by the Thatcher government.

Among the numerous roles he combined with being a bishop, he chaired the Martin Luther King Foundation, the Central Religious Advisory Committee for the BBC and ITV, and the Church of England’s Board for Social Responsibility, which published Something to Celebrate (1993), on family life, and Unemployment and the Future of Work (1997).

He retired in 1997, and in the 1998 New Year Honours was elevated to a life peerage, taking the title Baron Sheppard of Liverpool, of West Kirby in the County of Merseyside. He was an active member of the House of Lords on the Labour benches. He published his memoir, Steps Along Hope Street in 2002. He died of cancer in 2005, aged 75, his wife Grace died in 2010 also aged 75. They are survived by their only daughter, Jenny.

Books by Sheppard and Worlock are listed in Resources/Further Reading

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