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Canon Michael Shears

17 June 2016

Canon Ivan Bailey writes:

CANON Michael Shears, who died on 21 May, aged 82, was a parish priest for 40 years, but served in only three parishes. The key to understanding what characterised his ministry was his deliberate decision to remain for years in his first curacy.

After Pembroke College, Cam­bridge, he completed his training at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, in 1959, and then joined the staff of St Wulfram’s, Grantham. The system there required that, after a spell at the main church, a curate was sent to a daughter-church for a year or two before moving on. Michael was given charge of the Church of the Epiphany, Earlesfield. Faced with an old converted army hut, he felt that the people there deserved attention in their own right. They needed someone to lay a foundation, remain to develop it, build up the congregation, establish the church in the community, and enhance the building to make the worship worthier of the church’s dedication. All this he achieved.

In 1968, he moved north in Lincoln diocese, to spend 12 very happy years as Rector of All Saints’, Waltham. Here, as elsewhere, he showed himself as a quiet strategic visionary, with a precise capability of organising ability to bring his purposes to effect. This was revealed in the early organisation of a mission, careful recruitment of a strong team of missioners, a comprehensive preparatory programme, and efficient logistics. A series of attractive leaflets were delivered to every house in the parish, leading up to the opening night. This mission, which benefited from his gift for simple and effective theatre, had an impact still evident today.

In 1980, he moved to St Andrew’s, Soham, in Ely diocese, bringing with him his capacity for tireless parish visiting, and keeping meticulous records. When he appeared as the Mayor in the Pied Piper of Hamelin at the Soham Car­nival, this revealed the comic extrovert beneath his generally quiet demeanour. It also showed his readiness to engage fully in com­munity life. He had retired by the time the murder of two young girls darkened Soham and shocked the nation. He had baptised them, and knew their families, and those around them. In a wise and gracious act, his successor Canon Tim Alban Jones invited him to return to minister pastorally in the aftermath.

He was a Rural Dean for 14 years, and was appointed a Canon of Ely Cathedral in 1994. He spent time in Argentina researching the life of a William Case Morris, who was buried with his wife in Soham cemetery in 1932. Little known in this country, Morris can be described as the Dr Barnardo of Argentina: he saved about 200,000 children from the streets. “That man is sacred to me,” the President said. Michael was lately seeking to get Morris commemorated in the lectionary.

Michael and his beloved wife, Sylvia, a stalwart support of his ministry, moved to Wicklewood, in Norfolk. Michael had been commis­sioned and served in the Royal Norfolk Regiment during National Service. He valued his continued association there, and with the Dunkirk Veterans’ Associa­tion. He pursued other interests, old and new, and added to the well-stocked mind that made him a fluent preacher. He was grateful to be asked to contribute to the wor­ship­p­ing life and outreach of Wymond­ham Abbey, which he loved, and to serve wherever there was need.

Ultimately, his attraction was that he was a quietly holy man, humble in his awareness of his need of God’s grace and mercy. He was resolute in the discipline of the daily offices, and the attendant spiritu­ality, which were the staple of his life to his dying day. The packed congregation, from far and wide, at his funeral service in Wymondham Abbey, testified to the many who recognised his worth and were glad.

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