My friends who track matters Anglican are following with gusto the rather obscure question of whether the Church of England will decide to adopt something called the Anglican Covenant. This document would try to lay out for the various progeny churches of the English state church worldwide a statement of belief and a procedure for disciplining or even expelling branches off the imperial tree that stray from or embarrass other branches.
Though the Archbishop of Canterbury promotes the Covenant, it is not popular anywhere. In particular, it seems designed to vote the rambunctious colonials in the United States off the island for including gay people in the clergy and moving toward marrying us. At present the initiative looks to be limping badly, probably failing -- and even if the C. of E. did manage to sign on to the document, it would not make a hill of beans difference to U.S. Episcopalians struggling to be faithful bearers of the good news of God's love in our own backyards.
But in this context, it was interesting to read Tony Judt's description of the Anglican Church in Thinking the Twentieth Century. Tudt, a Jewish Brit and the unequaled chronicler of Europe in the second half of the 20th century in Postwar, grew up in the shadow of this strange institution.
It is bracing to see oneself as others see one. This description sure accords with my view of the Covenant kerfuffle. Any U.S. Episcopalians clinging to nostalgic Anglophilia are likely having a tough season.
Yes, there are quite a few large, rich religious institutions in this country. But the deeper story is that many congregations of all sorts are in economic trouble, no longer the sole or even major community-building institution in their neighborhoods and unable to bring in the cash to support their activities.
The financial meltdown is wiping out the weakest. Lots of people probably think that is fine; religion has too often been a nasty, cramped imposition on too many of us. But these institutions are where people have met and made fellowship; I don't think virtual connections can replace the sort of face to face connections these institutions created. Even when I don't like their beliefs, I worry.