DAVID SHEPPARD, the England cricket captain in 1954, was ordained in 1955 to the evangelical church of St Mary's in Islington, north London. He then spent 18 years in the East End followed by 22 years devoted to Liverpool. He experienced remarkable "conversions": from a quiet, rather shy schoolboy to being a handsome sporting icon, from being a conventional believer to being a born-again evangelical, then to become a radical activist over derelict urban areas and finally to enter a deep friendship with the Roman Catholic Archbishop Derek Worlock of Liverpool, with whom he wrote three books and took great risks in city riots.
Worlock and Sheppard liked to recount how in the 1985 riots the black leaders sent a message to the two bishops begging for megaphones so that they could appeal to their followers to go home. At that time of night in all the chaos and noise the police seemed the only source. The police demurred. Could the black leaders be trusted?
Finally they handed two megaphones over to the bishops, who carried them under their coats towards the centre of the trouble, evading some Manchester folk who had come to Liverpool for the chance of a good riot. Then the bishops found a boy to carry the megaphones to the black leaders, who succeeded in persuading everyone to return to their homes.
It was typical of the trust won by the two bishops, whether they were at the centre of Liverpool's troubles or speaking out for the city in London to sceptical Conservative ministers. Nicholas Ridley rebuffed them by saying that as Minister for the Environment he was "responsible for every butterfly and dog licence and I don't see why that should not include Merseyside as well". Only later did Michael Heseltine take seriously Liverpool's problems.
David Sheppard was born in Reigate, Surrey, in 1929 and grew up in a family proud of Tubby Clayton, a cousin who had founded TocH, the First World War Christian movement. After his father's early death, in 1937, Sheppard and his family moved to Sussex, where his passion for cricket began.
He was educated at Sherborne, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and Ridley Hall, and then joined the ranks of the impressive post-war ordinands who were greatly strengthening the ministry of the churches in the UK, France and the United States. In England these included Robert Runcie, Simon Phipps, Stephen Verney, Hugh Montefiore, David Jenkins and many others who had all seen war service and became notable church leaders.
Sheppard married Grace Isaac, daughter of the Rev Bryan Isaac, in 1957 and together they committed themselves to the demanding life in Canning Town of the Mayflower Family Settlement. In the East End Sheppard was personally close to poor whites and poor blacks. The blacks resented the lack of trust by white churches; it was not until 1985 that the Church of England had its first black bishop, in Wilfred Wood as Bishop of Croydon.
David Sheppard's long innings at Liverpool, from 1975 to 1997, after six years as Suffragan Bishop of Woolwich, threw him into the whirlpool of Derek Hatton's Militant Tendency local politics and harsh problems of housing and growing unemployment. He accepted the chairmanship of the Liverpool Manpower Services Commission, the Central Religious Advisory Committee for the BBC and IBA and the General Synod Board for Social Responsibility, and, most important of all, the vice-chairmanship of the brilliant group of men and women who produced the 1985 report Faith in the City.
Subtitled "A Call for Action by Church and Nation", this was the most influential message to the nation issued by the Church of England in the 20th century. Eventually Margaret Thatcher and succeeding governments, Tory and Labour, saw the inner cities and the riots as a British disability which must be faced. More than any other bishop - perhaps more than any other public figure - Sheppard, by persistent prophetic protests in Parliament, the press and his diocese helped to change public opinion. …