Canon David Winter writes:
CANON Michael Saward, who died on 31 January, aged 82, was a
colourful, multi-talented, and occasionally exasperating priest,
who left as his legacy to the Church of England the burgeoning
"open" Evangelical movement, and a number of outstanding hymns,
including "Christ triumphant", already a favourite for great
He was born in Blackheath, Kent, and educated at Eltham College.
Although his family were not churchgoers, he joined a church choir,
and, at a camp for young people, he experienced a conversion to
Christ which remained intensely real to him all his life.
After National Service with the West Africa Frontier Force in
Ghana, he went to Tyndale Hall, Bristol, to train for the ministry.
During his time in Bristol he met his future wife, Jackie. Their
love for each other was obvious to all who knew them, and Jackie's
death a few years ago was a great blow to Michael. They had three
daughters and a son.
After ordination, Michael served two curacies, in Croydon and
Edgware, before becoming Vicar of St Matthew's, Fulham, and then of
St Mary's, Ealing. It was in the Ealing vicarage that the family
suffered the appalling experience of a violent burglary by three
men high on alcohol and drugs. Michael and then his daughter Jill's
boyfriend were viciously beaten, and then Jill herself was taken
upstairs and raped. The story was headline news (Margaret Thatcher,
then Prime Minister, sent a letter of sympathy to the family), and
Jill courageously declined anonymity in order to draw attention to
the pernicious nature of the crime. She later wrote on the subject,
and has taken a public role as an anti-rape campaigner. Although
Jill seemed to have coped with the trauma well, in fact she later
suffered severe emotional after-effects. Michael himself confessed
to a failure to see how deeply traumatised she had been.
During his early years of ministry, Saward had begun to write
articles. He had a series published in the newly launched monthly
Crusade, on important figures in church history, a subject
to which he returned 30 years later in a notable series of
broadcast talks on Premier Radio. He strongly believed that we
shape the future by learning from the past.
From his curacy days, he also turned his hand to hymn-writing.
He was a leading member of the "Jubilate" team that produced many
of the popular hymns and worship songs of the 1960s and '70s. Later
he was to concentrate on hymns: he professed a distaste for
repetitive, superficial choruses, bereft of metre, rhyme, or
Michael was a good preacher and also an able broadcaster, but a
stint as the Archbishop of Canterbury's radio and television
officer unfairly labelled him as an official "spokesman". The post
involved trying to pacify Mrs Thatcher's frequent complaints about
trendy leftish bishops on Thought for the Day.
He published an autobiography, A Faint Streak of
Humility, John Hughes, Bishop of Croydon, having claimed that
he had once detected such a thing in Saward. He took the irony as a
compliment, and would freely acknowledge that lack of
self-confidence had never been his problem. It may, however, have
been a factor in his failure to achieve the senior appointment in
church governance that he sought.
Instead, he worked away behind the scenes. He was one of a group
of younger Evangelicals who, under the leadership of John Stott,
used the National Evangelical Anglican Conference at Keele in 1967
to commit themselves to working within the Church of England as
loyal members rather than as a trouble-making fifth column in its
Following this principle, Saward served on the General Synod for
20 years, as a Church Commissioner for 15 years, and as a member of
the Church of England Evangelical Council for 17.
In 1991, he was appointed Canon Treasurer of St Paul's
Cathedral, and remained there until his retirement in 2000. It was
not quite the bishopric he would have cherished (and for which he
was once mistakenly complimented in a letter from Downing Street,
which he framed and kept). Nevertheless, he enjoyed the dignity and
the traditions of St Paul's, while maintaining his Evangelical
approach in worship and preaching.
Michael was an unashamed Evangelical, but in the popular sense
of the term he was no puritan. He knew a good wine, loved the
theatre, adored Sophia Loren, and wrote a book for Christians on
enjoying sex. It was sufficiently frank to be banned in one chain
of Evangelical bookshops. With his death, a little bit of colour
has been drained from the Church he loved.