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One of the bemusing aspects of American political life for a mere Brit is the attachment of the working class and poor to the party of the “bosses”.  It would be as if in England those who vote Labour, suddenly became Conservative. My maternal grandfather, a coal miner in Yorkshire made such a change. When asked why he voted for the Tories  he replied, “If I am to be robbed, I’ll be robbed by a gentleman.”

As I see it, the Democrats, once the party of the dispossessed, are more and more hostage to the causes of an intellectual elite. Whether these causes are just or not isn’t the point. The point is that a gulf is growing in understanding and empathy between “progressives” and the people whose causes they once advanced. It is for this reason, among others, that independents and working class Republicans, not to mention the Tea Party crowd feel more at home with those who oppose the measures which have elevated the poor, health care, pensions, a minimum wage, than they do with those who fought to create a safety net.

I write this not to champion a particular political party. I can’t vote anyway and find myself uncomfortable with party politics and politicians as a breed. I suppose I am apolitical! It seems to me that something strikingly similar has happened in TEC.  Those who champion “progressive” causes have little empathy or even contact with the working poor. As those championed by theological “liberals” have become more and more conservative in their voting pattern, they have seemed less and less attractive as prospective Episcopalians. One may still give money to causes, campaign for health care, run soup kitchens and volunteer in commendable causes, but a divide has emerged as significant as that which obtained when women, and a few men, of wealth rolled up their sleeves and worked among the poor in Victorian England, only to return to the family estate at nightfall to  dress for dinner.

There’s a lovely story of a young curate assigned to a slum parish presided over by an austere, aristocratic Anglo Catholic priest. One morning the curate was late for Mass. Afterwards the vicar chided the young man for his lateness. The curate explained that his alarm clock failed to ring to which the vicar replied, “and where was your valet?”

I do not believe for a moment that Anglicanism is merely a church for the elite. Some suggest that it is our liturgical tradition which creates a barrier for “ordinary people”.  Why then does the Roman Catholic Church retain its pastoral association with working people? All right, most people work, but you know what I mean. The Lutherans do better than we do in bonding with the poor.

Anglicanism as a separate face in Christendom began as a church for and in the whole community. That it became a church for the Squire and the gentry, and the villagers, was natural. Perhaps the Industrial Revolution divorced ordinary people from the church? But in the past few decades I sense that we have become so enamored with the trendy causes of the intelligentsia that we have placed stumbling blocks between the whole Gospel we proclaim and those for whom we proclaim it.  Ironically we have substituted the old aristocratic, wealthy class for a new elitist “progressive” class as the object of our attention and in the process their introverted obsessions have become our own.

3 Responses

  1. Dear Tony+

    One point to consider is that the majority of Episcopal congregations are considered “blue-collar”.

    Bishop Pierre
    once a rector of such a church

  2. By whom? grin

  3. I think it probably is true that the majority of parishes would be considered Blue Collar. However, here in Pittsburgh, for example, where Bp. Whalon once served as rector of such a place, we notice the familiar pattern. These “Blue Collar” parishes–in North Versailles and Donora and Jeannette and Wilkinsburg, etc.–are aging and dwindling. Essentially “pastoral outposts,” attendance 40-50 on a Sunday, and more at the frequent midweek funerals. And thoroughly estranged from the midstream of the Church as it gathers, say, at General Convention. The Anaheim Convention Center world would have looked like Mars and sounded like Farsi to just about all of them. Unintelligible. There are still plenty of people living in those “Blue Collar” communities, but by and large the Episcopal Church’s vital ministry and cultural identification with them is a story of days long ago . . . .

    Bruce Robison

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