The bigger Mersey Miracle
Ecumenical collaboration in 1980s Liverpool has been justly celebrated, but there was more to the story than often reported. Andrew Bradstock fills in the gaps
Think of Liverpool in the 1980s and several images come to mind. Unrest in Toxteth. The Heysel and Hillsborough tragedies. A Militant council in dispute with the Thatcher government. And the friendship of the city’s Church leaders, Anglican Bishop David Sheppard and Catholic Archbishop Derek Worlock.
The Sheppard-Worlock partnership is often described as ‘the Mersey miracle’. They were not the first Church leaders to develop a friendship, even in Liverpool, but against the backdrop of the city’s sectarian past, their collaboration was remarkable. Their decision to do everything together, and to be seen to be doing everything together, played a significant role in changing the culture of a city often referred to as ‘the Belfast of England’. It is a measure of their achievement that they could say, after 20 years together, the people in Liverpool ‘have come to expect the Churches to act together.’
Yet what is often overlooked is that, when they spoke about ‘the Churches’ in their region, they included the Free Churches as well as their own. Last year I completed the authorised biography of David Sheppard, and one of the tasks I set myself was to bring the Free Churches out from the shadows, to show that the ‘miracle’ was about them as well. The Free Churches had been involved in ecumenical activity in Liverpool since the 1960s. Sheppard and Worlock were building on the work of others when they began meeting with local Baptist, Methodist, Salvation Army and United Reformed Church leaders shortly after their arrival in the mid-1970s. But they took the relationship to a new level. Through working together in different ways – joining protest marches, making joint submissions to government, sharing press statements on current issues – they developed a deep relationship of trust and friendship…
Andrew Bradstock is a former United Reformed Church Secretary for Church and Society. He teaches part-time at Winchester University. David Sheppard: Batting for the poor (SPCK, 2019) is reviewed here
This is an extract from an article that was published in the March 2020 edition of Reform