Grace Sheppard combined a deep faith with a sharp sense of humour and well-honed powers of observation. As a clergyman’s daughter, she understood the human stories behind the scenes and had an instinctive and compassionate understanding of the priesthood, and was unintimidated by status. She could also discern the divine in the most mundane of human experiences. Grace was recognised as a deeply Christian woman and sensitive mentor to many, becoming known for her own valuable ministry and volunteering in community causes for over 50 years.
It has been said of Grace that these talents enabled her to understand the principal partners in the great ecumenical partnership on Merseyside, especially her husband and Archbishop Derek Worlock, better than they understood each other or perhaps themselves. It may be this that enabled a softening of the clerical and professional boundaries and opened the way to the human and authentic relationship which proved so fruitful.
In an extract from The Worlock Archive (2000) Clifford Longley wrote: “In my research for The Worlock Archive, nothing impressed me more than the testimony of Grace Sheppard, wife of the former Anglican bishop and Worlock's great partner in what they called the Mersey Miracle. She told me she confided in her friend Derek when she did not feel she could confide in her husband. A sufferer from the disabling condition agoraphobia (fear of open space) she decided to write a book about it (An Aspect of Fear) and sought his encouragement. More than that, he lent her a room and a desk at Archbishop House, Liverpool, for as long as she needed. When she first used it she found a card in the archbishop's own handwriting wishing her welcome (he was away on business).
It was his intimate and generous friendship that enabled David and Grace Sheppard to accept what might otherwise have been difficult and painful for them - the decision of their only daughter Jenny to leave the Church of which her father was such a distinguished representative, in order to convert to Catholicism. Jenny went on to have her own warm friendship with Worlock. Worlock and the Sheppards were virtually an extended family.”
The success of An Aspect of Fear (DLT 1989) and complete recovery from agarophobia in her fifties heralded a new phase in her life, involving public speaking, writing and broadcasting. Through her courage to share her vulnerability, she inspired many, both through her books and in personal relationships. Regarded as having had her own distinctive ministry, she was guided by writers such as Gerard W. Hughes and Ruth Etchells as well as a lifelong practice of the Daily Office. Grace latterly cared for her husband through his terminal illness and five years after she was widowed, published Living With Dying. Warmly received, this human and accessible book explored the taboo subjects of death and bereavement, and addressed the key role of friendship: ‘it is in giving that we receive, and in gratitude that we find healing’.
More information at www.gracesheppard.co.uk
Books by Sheppard and Worlock are listed in Resources/Further Reading.