Day 30 31st March David Sheppard
O come on, I’m a Yorkshireman, it is only right that one of my saints should be a Test Match cricketer! Sadly, not a Yorkshireman himself; David Sheppard was born in Reigate in 1929 and played his cricket for Sussex and England. His highest Test Match score was 119 against India in 1952; and in 1956, now also a Church of England priest, he scored 113 in the fourth test at Old Trafford; the match in which Jim Laker famously took 19 wickets in an England victory. After dropping two catches in another game, Freddie Trueman (a proper Yorkshireman) told him that the only time he could keep his hands together was in church on a Sunday! He remains the only ordained priest to play Test Cricket.
His early years as a priest were in Islington and Canning Town. He was made Bishop of Woolwich in 1969, and then Bishop of Liverpool in 1975. He was not only a famous Bishop in these places, due to his cricketing career, but also a very popular one as well. He was a tireless campaigner against poverty and the social reform of Inner Cities; and also a staunch opponent of apartheid, refusing to play against the touring South Africans in 1960. He formed a strong bond with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Liverpool, David Worlock, and they worked closely together to support the poorer areas of Liverpool, especially after the Toxteth riots in 1982.
In 1983 he wrote a very forthright book, ‘Bias to the Poor’, which challenged the church to remember its roots and to recommit its time and resources to the inner cities and the poorer areas that it was called to serve. He reminded us that Jesus had a very strong bias to the poor, the outcast, the outsider, and the forgotten in his own life and ministry. He pointed out the Biblical message was very clear that societies are judged on how they treat and support the most vulnerable in the midst of them.
The Church of England has regularly been called the Tory Party at prayer; which while it may not be a very fair summary of the church, it is reminder that the church is not merely an institution for the rich and powerful but should be a community that embraces all parts of our society. David Sheppard reminds us that we must always have a bias towards the poor and the vulnerable in our communities, and they should always have a priority in our mission and care. A church community should always be a place where everyone feels comfortable and that they truly belong. That is the Gospel message that Jesus preached and lived.
From Bias to the Poor by David Sheppard
Bias to the poor sounds like a statement of political preference. My experience has been that some of the most central teachings of orthodox Christianity lead me to this position. Jesus’ theme of the Kingdom of God, the calling of the church to be Catholic, reaching across all human divisions and the doctrine of the Incarnation; all lead me to the claim that there is a divine bias to the poor, which should be reflected both in the Church and in the secular world.
For many years it was assumed that society is shaped like a pyramid, with the majority at the base of the pyramid being poor. The logic then argued that one man-one vote would enable the interests of the poor to mobilise decisive political power. But for a long time society in a developed country like Britain has been shaped not like a pyramid, but like a diamond. In other words the majority and their votes are to be found somewhere in the middle, with a stake in keeping things just as they are.
We must look hard at the difference between a kind of development which offers a higher cash standard of living but keeps large groups of people dependant and without a voice, a genuine effort to create what the World Council of Churches have called “a just, participatory and sustainable society.”
The church is called to commit itself to action on behalf of the poor…many of us have a nagging sense that the urban poor do not see enough evidence of this kind. I believe there is a divine bias to the disadvantaged, and that the church needs to be more faithful in reflecting it.