Sunday 10 February 2013
I’ve been reading some of Dick Sheppard’s books. Dick Sheppard was Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields from 1914-26. In that time he became perhaps the most famous Church of England parish priest of the twentieth century. He established the ever-open door began the tradition of live broadcast worship and made the church a centre of ferment and debate and social action.
The books are furious. Dick Sheppard was furious with the Church of England for arguing about trivia and accommodating to evil while ignoring Christ’s example and missing Christ’s call to sacrificial life and ministry. One of Dick Sheppard’s books is called If I Were Dictator. The truth is he hardly has a chance to say what he’d do if he were dictator because he spends almost all the book berating the church for its follies. If you have any faint streak of nostalgia for the good old days, any idea that the Church of England once got it right – in the 1950s, or the 1920s, or any time before – reading Dick Sheppard puts you in your place.
I was reminded of one of the most memorable speeches I ever heard – Bill Clinton at the memorial service for the great civil rights historian and reformer John Hope Franklin. Clinton held us in the palm of his hand, and said of Franklin, ‘John Hope was a happy angry man… and an angry happy man.’ It was a perfect description.
I wonder if that was true of Dick Sheppard. I wonder if it’s true of you.
I wonder if it should be true of all of us.
Revd Dr Sam Wells