Paperback / ISBN-13: 9781474614238

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Parish churches have been at the heart of communities for more than a thousand years. But now, fewer than two in one hundred people regularly attend services in an Anglican church, and many have never been inside one. Since the idea of ‘church’ is its people, the buildings are becoming husks – staples of our landscapes, but without meaning or purpose. Some churches are finding vigorous community roles with which to carry on, but the institutional decline is widely seen as terminal.

Yet for Richard Morris, post-war parsonages were the happy backdrop of his childhood. In Evensong he searches for what it was that drew his father and hundreds like him towards ordination as they came home from war in 1945. Along the way we meet all kinds of people – archbishops, chaplains, campaigners, bell-ringers, bureaucrats, archaeologists, gravediggers, architects, scroungers – and follow some of them to dark places.

Part personal odyssey, part lyrical history, Evensong asks what churches stand for and what they can tell us; it explores why Anglicanism has often been fractious, and why it has become so diffuse. Spanning over two thousand years, it draws on new discoveries, reflects on the current state of the Church in England and ends amid the messy legacies of colonialism and empire.

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Extraordinary . . . Again and again he picks something up and it causes his mind to roam in a new direction, so the number of subjects covered, from steam engines to an unsolved murder in Zimbabwe, is impossible to list or put into any real order . . . Morris delves archaeologically deep into the foundations of Christian belief in England and explains the survival into today of ideas and rhythms that are almost impossibly old.
Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday
At its best when reminding us how deeply embedded these buildings are in the English landscape and when exploring, how the intimate meanings they have held can be rediscovered . . . At the book's heart is the question of the place of faith in the modern world . . . a warm, thoughtful and generous-spirited book with a profound sense of the importance of traditional spiritual devotions in the modern world.
Catholic Herald
Eclectic, discursive, and multi-layered (as befits an archaeologist). Reading it is like sitting by the fire, listening to a skilled raconteur pouring out an endless stream of anecdotes . . . You could describe this wonderfully serendipitous book as an absorbing account of the history of archaeology from somebody who has played (and continues to play) an influential part - but it is so much more
Current Archaeology
With warm sentiment but no sentimentality, he communicates the ties of love that bound his family together . . . [Evensong] is like an archaeologist's diagnostic slice or test pit, exposing human history . . . Morris's narration of the wonders of Marloes, St Brides and the Pembrokeshire coast makes a moment of shared historical experience. But the greater pleasure of the book comes from its meta-narrative: if it is fair to say that the author is haunted by the past, then it must be added that the ghosts than haunt him are not fearsome but friendly
Cally Hammond, TLS
In Evensong, Richard Morris, whose father was himself a parish priest, considers the history and current fragile state of the Church of England
An exploration of the current state of the Church of England amid messy legacies of colonialism and Empire
The Tablet
Packed with quirky historical diversion . . . he writes beautifully about his parents and allows their love letters, which he discovered after his father's death, to speak largely for themselves . . . There are informative detours about bell-ringing and bell-casting, organ-building and choirs, 16th-century burial practices and a long account of Morris's involvement in a dig at Kellington, North Yorkshire, where 30 years ago the church had to be saved from subsidence caused by coal-mining . . . there is an elegiac decency to this book. In its restrained, courtly way it reminds us of the Christian context to British life that we are losing with each ahistorical shrug from our leaders
The Times
This memoir pulls off a difficult task . . . the story that it tells is a very human story of a father and son, a vicar and an archaeologist - and a compelling story it is . . . Richard Morris avoids nostalgia, and, as one would expect from an archaeologist, sets out a layered story of the different people and places whose character is vividly drawn here . . . On one level, it is a celebration of the parish; on another, it is a ringing affirmation of the importance of our church buildings
Church Times
It can sometimes be regarded as an institution out of time but, as this intimate, idiosyncratic account notes, the Church of England continues to influence public life and private morality well into the 21st century. Centred around a series of reminiscences of the author's relationship with the church's practices, places and people, the book also has much to say about issues of community and identity.
BBC History
A song of praise to England's vanishing Church . . . Evensong is an apt title for this beautifully written and moving meditation on the history and current state of the Church of England . . . Morris is a man of extraordinary learning . . . The result is something extraordinarily rich, which interweaves past and present and illuminates many aspects of post-war Britain, including shifting class relations, housing and industrial policy, and the cultural tensions between conservationists and gung-ho modernisers - the latter especially important for the Church, which was torn between the two . . . wonderful
The Sunday Telegraph