I've been reading a book over the last few months called Wqatching the English by Kate Fox, and English anthropologist. It's been both insightful and frustrating - seeing both the best and worst of English culture, and seeing which parts I've left behind and what has stayed with me - a maddening mix of both the good and the bad.
The Church of England, though, is reserved for the end, almost an afterthought or epilogue in itself. Her observations, culled from observing all manner of English people, ring so true it's startling. They come down to these three passages:
I’ve called this chapter Rites of Passage, rather than Religion, because religion as such is largely irrelevant to the lives of most English people nowadays, but the rituals to which Church of England vicars irreverently refer as ‘hatchings, matchings and dispatchings’, and other less momentous transitions, are still important. Most honest Anglican clerics will readily admit that the rites de passage of marriage, death, and to a lesser extent birth, are now their only point of contact with the majority of their parishioners. Some of us might attend a service at Christmas, and an even smaller number at Easter, but for most, church attendance is limited to weddings, funerals, and perhaps christenings.
Fox, Kate (2008). Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour (p. 353). Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Kindle Edition.
In any case, the Church of England is the least religious church on Earth. It is notoriously woolly-minded, tolerant to a fault and amiably non-prescriptive. To put yourself down as ‘C of E’ (we prefer to use this abbreviation whenever possible, in speech as well as on forms, as the word ‘church’ sounds a bit religious, and ‘England’ might seem a bit patriotic) on a census or application form, as is customary, does not imply any religious observance or beliefs whatsoever – not even a belief in the existence of God. Alan Bennett once observed, in a speech to the Prayer Book Society, that in the Anglican Church ‘whether or not one believes in God tends to be sidestepped. It’s not quite in good taste. Someone said that the Church of England is so constituted that its members can really believe anything at all, but of course almost none of them do’.
ibid (p. 354).
It is hard to find anyone who takes the Church of England seriously – even among its own ranks. In 1991, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, said: ‘I see it as an elderly lady, who mutters away to herself in a corner, ignored most of the time’. And this typically Eeyorish comment was in an interview immediately following his appointment to the most exalted position in this Church. If the Archbishop of Canterbury himself likens his church to an irrelevant senile old biddy, it is hardly surprising that the rest of us feel free to ignore it. Sure enough, in a sermon almost a decade later, he bemoaned the fact that ‘A tacit atheism prevails’. Well, really – what did he expect?
ibid (p. 354).
All of which makes me wonder why anyone cares about whether or not one is affiliated with the organization on the personal or corporate level.