When “Ministry” Meant Practicing What One Preached – The W.E. Sangster Story
Arguably Britain’s 20th Century Prince of Preachers, William Sangster was born in London in 1900. His relatively short life was prolific, profound, and powerful to all who had the pleasure to meet him – from monarchs to paupers.
Sangster was attributed with the mantra “I just can’t do enough”. Not one he sought, but one that cascaded from his lips as he not only ‘burnt the candle at both ends’, but also broke it in half and lit those ends too.
At the commencement of World War II, Reverend Sangster assumed the leadership of Westminster Central Methodist Hall in central London, and his first message in that venue was to announce that Britain was at war with Germany.
As the war progressed and the bombing of London commenced, he turned the hall into, not only a bomb-shelter, but a home for hundreds of people/families from the slums – and then moved he and his family in too. Having only one room for he and his family, (no privileges) he ministered – he served for 1,688 consecutive nights to the same displaced and afraid.
Whilst undertaking this herculean task, he also continued to preach every week and to a packed venue of 3000 people, lead many to Christ and complete a PhD.
He earned, but did not seek, the honorary title of being John Wesley’s successor – a lofty mantel indeed.
One could imagine this relentless, even though God inspired/enabled service, can take a toll – particularly in such incredibly difficult conflict overrun times. It did.
It was said over the years of Methodist preachers and ministers that they ‘knew how to die well.’ Sangster proved no different. After being diagnosed with a motor-neuron disease called progressive muscular atrophy, his physical decline over the next three years was utterly debilitating. In his last days, he was only able to move two fingers.
However, none of this it was witnessed, diminished his attitude or fervour. In fact, on receiving the news that this condition would end him he set down what he called ‘Four Rules for Dying’. Good to his word, he kept them until his last breath.
- I will never complain
- I will keep the home bright
- I will count my blessings
- I will try and turn it to a gain
It is ironic, is it not, that such a remarkable life of humble Christ-like service is not celebrated, even lauded. Yet, that is the nature of the true servant. Even when gifts and talents can propel you into ‘influencer’ status and the giddy echelons of fame and notoriety, just like our Lord and Saviour, it is not the spotlight that brings legacy, but the transformation of lives and environments served that does that.
I’ll leave you with a quote I heard recently and one that has challenged me to recalibrate my poor, by comparison, understanding of service in HIS Kingdom.
“Many Christian people may enjoy the title of ‘Servant’, but few like to be treated like one!” Unknown
For more on Rev W. E. Sangster’s Life go to Memories of a Great Leader