A Life-Long Springtime: The Life and Teaching of Fr George Congreve SSJE by Luke Miller (Sacristry Press), £22.25.

It is all too easy to look at the Church of England with a sense of despair and bewilderment. Such headlines as it attracts tend to focus on disputes and divisions. 

Riven, as it is, by entrenched positions and the tendency to prefer your own silo. The Church is increasingly hung out, as opposed to hung up, on its establishment status with neither it nor the Establishment (if such a thing still exists) showing much understanding of what role in the nation’s life it is allotted nor how to make the best of its unique position.

The Establishment has long given up taking a close interest in the workings of church appointments. This started with Gordon Brown surrendering the Prime Minister’s active role in senior church appointments, with none of his three successors caring to make an effort to recover the lost influence.

Not so long ago, prime ministers took a keen interest in such appointments knowing those who held such positions had a substantial influence in public debate and public opinion. Not anymore. There is no surer sign of the Church of England’s waning influence on the nation’s consciousness than that its national political leaders do not much care who is running it. 

The church itself prefers to focus on numbers attending and eye-catching initiatives, often at the expense of the communities in which it is already established.

Like all struggling organisations, morale tends to be patchy, limited resources diverted from the front-line to made-up jobs at the centre in the mistaken belief that strengthening it will help, recovery plans launched more in desperation than optimism. 

Leaders (in this case, Bishops) numbers proliferate and they become centres of discord rather than points of unity. We have Bishops for conservate evangelicals, charismatic evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics, specific projects, and now even one to cogitate on cultural matters. Some groups will accept the ministry of some Bishops, but not all groups will accept the ministry of all Bishops.

The Church of England is not now one organisation sharing one set of leaders and a broad but common understanding of itself, but is now, in reality, a collection of groups fiercely competing for dominance and control, more interested in their own individual ambitions and approaches than strengthening the broader effort. 

How this great struggle works its way out matters, whether we recognise it or not. It matters not only to the Church of England but to the country as a whole. 

Out of this maelstrom come many unsung stories of sacrifice and service by clergy and laity on the frontline and every now and again shining lights of scholarly inquiry illuminating the often forgotten riches of ministry that the Church of England’s history is so rich in.

Luke Miller’s new book, The Life and Teaching of Fr George Congreve is one such piece of work. It is a timely reminder that individual priests and members of the faithful can make a significant difference to the communities they serve, the faith they share and shine a light on a better future should it be valued and appreciated.

George Congreve devoted his life to prayer, teaching, witness and sharing the faith he loved. His story is one of unselfish and unshowy witness and service. His was a life lived in faith and in doing so set an example to those of his own time and for all time. 

Luke Miller’s thoroughly researched and elegantly written book is a worthwhile read for those of faith or no faith, for members of the Church of England and those who are not.

It is a testament to the fact that chaos in the Church of England is nothing new but that out of it has, can and hopefully will continue to come people who are able and inspiring witnesses to the Christian tradition that is uniquely formed by and for this country.