Born in London on 5 June 1900, he had no family connection with Methodism, but attended Radnor Street Sunday School and mainly through its influence offered for the WM ministry. He trained at Handsworth and Richmond Colleges. During his ministry in Liverpool, 1929-1932, he experienced a spiritual crisis which led to a deeper commitment to God. His outstanding gifts as a preacher drew large congregations, especially at Scarborough (1932-36) and Brunswick, Leeds (1936-39). His appointment to Westminster Central Hall coincided with the opening of World War II and for 16 years he exercised a powerful ministry there. During the war he lived in a small flat on the premises, so that contact could be maintained with people who sheltered each night in the crypt.
His post-war Sunday evening congregations were the largest in London. He was alive to contemporary thought and his sermons were relevant to the human situation. His articles in the popular press reached a wider audience. He was elected President of the Conference in 1950 and five years later became General Secretary of the Home Mission Department. In 1944 he was elected to the senate of London University. He was a prolific author. Among his most widely influential titles were Methodism Can Be Born Again (1938; revised edn, 1941) and Methodism's Unfinished Task (1947), together with his books on preaching, reprinted as The Art of the Sermon (1954). His doctoral thesis was published as The Path to Perfection (1943). He gave the Sam P. Jones Lectures at Emory University (Let Me Commend, 1948) and the Cato Lecture (The Pure in Heart, 1954). He was forced to retire in 1959 through muscular dystrophy, but during two years of illness continued to write and to promote prayer cells. He died on 24 May 1960.
His son, Dr. Paul Sangster (1927-2010), influenced by A.B. Sackett during his school years at Kingswood, chose education rather than the ministry for his life's work. He read English at Pembroke College, Cambridge and later gained a D.Phil. and a B.Litt. In Church History at Oxford. He taught at Bec Grammar School, Tooting and was housemaster at Ashville College, Harrogate, before becoming Vice-Principal of Worcester Training College and then Principal of Balls Park College, Hertford. After three years as Headmaster of Kent College, Cambridge, a heart attack led to his resignation and he became chaplain at Hunmanby Hall. He was a local preacher and wrote his father's biography. His wife Mary (died 2014) was the daughter of the Rev. R. John Tudor.
'[Sangster] always had a light in his eyes and a smile about to break on his face as he listened to some amusing story or the account of some unconvincing incident. he smile usually grew and finally burst into laughter. His face could become hard and stern and full of withering scorn when he was angry or disgusted about some unworthy incident or behaviour. Whe he talked about the deep things of our religion there always came into his eyes a look of yearning.'
F.B. Roberts, quoted in Paul Sangster (1962) p.49
'Dr.Sangster, with his abundand energy, his mental agiliity, his untiring search for, and emphasis on, the doctrine of Christian Perfection, was no simple personality. To work with him was an exciting occupation: you never knew what scheme would be outlined at the next meeting with him,or what heights of achievement his stewards and staff would be encouraged to attain in the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.His lieutenants worked hard because he worked, only harder. Looking back, it is overwhelming to remember the books and pamphlets he wrote (first draft always by hand with abbreviations of his own devisng) the sermons he prepared (dictated first, then the typescript precis'd on cards for pulpit use),the letters,fifty or sixty, sometmes more, dictated rapidly at one sitting, but many written by hand as well,and the long hours of pastoral work in the vestry - and never a confidence broken - the many journeys at home and abroad. Few men have had so keen a sense of the importanmce of time…. He was a model contributor to the Press; copy always delivered on time.'
Philip Found, Secretary to W.E. Sangster
Andrew J. Cheatle, 'William Sangster: Heir of John Wesley?', Wesley Fellowship, 2013