Sheppard and Worlock

 

Bishop David Sheppard (Anglican Bishop of Liverpool 1975-1997), and Archbishop Derek Worlock (Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool 1976-1996), together with Free Church leaders, worked together as advocates for communities and acted as ‘honest brokers’ in Liverpool between 1975 and 1996. Over two decades they provided an ear and a voice for a city, which, at different stages of the period, suffered from unemployment, inequality, poverty, sectarian division, tragedy, social unrest and political instability. They gave encouragement to their clergy, the laity and communities as they all faced a challenging time together. 

As an excellent introduction we suggest you read 'A Holy Alliance' by Andro Linklater. Also available to download here. Reproduced by kind permission of Andro Linklater and Hearst Magazines. Photographs by kind permission Liverpool Daily Post and Echo and Jason Shenai.

/files/images/people/Shakeshaft.jpgPhoto by kind permission of Stephen Shakeshaft.

Sheppard and Worlock were not well acquainted when they arrived within a year of each other in 1975 and 1976. However they had both served at inner city parishes in the East End of London in the mid sixties and on one occasion did meet - spending a long conversation discovering much common ground. In 1975, before Derek Worlock's appointment had been announced, David Sheppard, having just arrived as the new Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, was invited to dinner by the Papal Nuncio who quizzed him for an hour about the pastoral needs and priorities of the city. Worlock was duly appointed as the city's Catholic Archbishop and it is said that Pope Paul VI gave him a double mandate, 'to work with the poor and unemployed, and to prevent Liverpool becoming another Belfast'

In the 1981 Toxteth riots, Sheppard and Worlock stepped in to mediate between the community and police and eventually helped to establish the Liverpool 8 Law Centre. Through the Church Leaders Group in Liverpool, they became involved in key industrial disputes of the time, working tirelessly to build a bridge between conflicting parties, while their membership of the Merseyside Enterprise Forum, led them to set up ‘The Michaelmas Group’, a group of business and industry leaders who met monthly to explore ways of regenerating the city.

It was not just a cosy Catholic-Anglican club. The Church Leaders Group also included Dr John Newton, Methodist superintendent, John Williamson of the United Reformed Church, the Baptist Trevor Hubbard and Col Lily Farrar of the Salvation Army. The two bishops were always at pains to include their Free Church colleagues, in spite of the media often overlooking the full extent of the partnership, even to the point of insisting that the Methodist leader John Newton stand between them for photocalls since the press would otherwise routinely crop him out.

Through the imperative of addressing social issues together, they dedicated themselves to building an effective working relationship. This, and the role of Grace Sheppard, produced a strong friendship and mutual trust between the two bishops. Their faith in ordinary people and the laity encouraged the development of faith-based grassroots community action.

In the context of this visible partnership the longstanding sectarian divisions quickly receded, and in the wider society the churches’ role was perceived as relevant and welcomed. Whilst always remaining respectful of each other’s distinctive beliefs and traditions, in the challenge of working side by side they discovered that there was more to unite them than to divide them.

Over a 20 year period, they built bridges between polarised groups and viewpoints, inspiring both Government confidence during Liverpool’s political isolation and deep affection from the public they supported and represented during the sequence of events which dominated the city’s darkest days. During the period when the Militant Tendency was in the ascendancy they refused to take sides: at various points they were branded traitors by the Left and as 'statist' by the Right.

Throughout it all, they faced issues together as both public figures and friends, walking the streets side by side with the leaders of other Christian denominations, meeting and speaking regularly, and sharing their common faith.

The historic visit of John Paul II to Liverpool in 1982 will remain one of the most significant moments, especially the moving service of reconciliation in Liverpool’s Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral and the ecumenical service in LIverpool Cathedral at which Pope John Paul II was applauded all the way up the aisle. "The applause which greeted the Holy Father," said Cardinal Hume, "remains with me as the most earnest and insistent prayer for Christian unity that I have ever heard."

In 1989 the Hillsborough disaster challenged Liverpool in the extreme. The day after the disaster there was a Requiem Mass held at the Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral and a week later a memorial service at Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral, each packed with thousands of mourners. The two bishops and their clergy provided pastoral support to the bereaved and defended a hurt city in shock and under siege from a hostile press. A year on they were invited to take part in a televised remembrance service at Anfield, and over the ensuing years they sustained a consistent commitment behind the scenes as the families pursued their quest for justice.

Sheppard and Worlock jointly published three books, Better Together (1988) and With Christ in the Wilderness (1990) and With Hope in Our Hearts (1994). In January 1994, the two bishops were jointly awarded the Freedom of the City of Liverpool and in 2008 the Sheppard Worlock Monument in the form of two bronze doors was unveiled to honour their work. Funded by public donations, the memorial is situated halfway down Liverpool's famous Hope Street, which joins both the Roman Catholic and Anglican cathedrals. 

Together they found a distinctive Merseyside voice in addressing the social problems of the Thatcher era, of whose individualist ethos they were sharply critical. In Liverpool they kept alive the (at the time outdated) notions such as common good and community. They refused to believe that the weakest or the unemployed should go to the wall.

In listening to the needs of the city the two bishops saw that they should collaborate and speak as one Christian voice. Their principle was "Do everything together, except the things which conscience forces us to do apart".

 

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

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