THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK: William E Sangster...a man worth knowing

The ‘Cash for Curtains’ row brought to mind a comment by an eminent Methodist preacher from the post-war era, writes Rev David Clarke.

Tuesday, 4th May 2021, 11:17 am
Rev David Clarke

Three investigations are under way to determine if the Prime Minister has broken any rules in the financing of the redecoration of his Downing Street flat.

Astonishingly, the occupant of 10 Downing Street is allowed an annual sum of £30,000 to pay for any decoration or renovations, a sum which most people would regard as more than adequate.

But the fancy scheme desired by Boris and Carrie may have cost £200,000, and questions have been raised as to how that scheme was financed.

We await the outcome with interest. In the meantime, most of us marvel at the wisdom of such extravagance on a piece of property which one must eventually vacate when the country, or one’s party, gives the occupant what Churchill called ‘The Order of the Boot’.

The comment of which I was reminded by the ‘Cash for Curtains’ scandal was one made by the Rev W.E. Sangster.

Speaking of the transience of life, he remarked that the good things of life are no more important than the furnishings of an inn: ‘Who cares whether it is pseudo- Chippendale or Sheraton — we are only staying for the night’.

Sangster is a man worth knowing. Born into a modest home in Shoreditch, he trained as an accountant, before studying for the Methodist ministry.

He served in Leeds, and then at Central Hall, Westminster, from 1939 until his early death in 1960. Large crowds flocked to hear him preach, and he formed with Leslie Weatherhead and Donald Soper, later Lord Soper, a trinity of distinguished Methodist preachers in the post-war period. It was said that Sangster loved the gospel, Weatherhead loved people, and Soper loved an argument!

He was no plaster saint, being both passionate and practical.

Once he took his son to watch a first-class cricket match. As they settled down to watch the game, he said to his son, ‘Now I don’t want any of this, ‘may the best team win,’ nonsense. I want Surrey to win!’.

During the war, he opened the reinforced basement of Central Hall as an air-raid shelter, and hundreds of London’s homeless took cover there each night, while Sangster and his wife arranged a canteen with good, cheap food available for the needy.

As well as loving the gospel, Sangster loved people just as much as Weatherhead. It was said that he never forgot a name or a face; and he was famed for his warm pastoral care. Once, he visited a lady who was losing her sight. ‘God is taking away my sight’ she confided to him. ‘Don’t let Him take it, ‘said Sangster, ‘Give it to him.’ He recognised that a willingness to accept the unavoidable is one of the secrets of healing and of contentment.

Get to know Sangster and his books, if you can.