Former U.S. Senator Harry Byrd, Jr. was buried on Saturday in Winchester Virginia after a brief funeral at Christ Episcopal Church, with which the Byrd dynasty was long associated. Presiding at the funeral was his former colleague retired U.S. Senator John Danforth, an ordained Episcopal clergyman who also presided at President Reagan’s funeral.
The last time I was in Christ Episcopal Church was for my uncle’s funeral in 1989. He was related to the Byrds via marriage; Harry Flood Byrd Jr. was a pallbearer at his funeral. Sen. Byrd was there when my aunt and uncle married in 1940, an event announced by another institution in turmoil these days, the Washington Post.
Being Anglican or Episcopal was almost synonymous with being in Virginia’s upper reaches from Jamestown onward. My uncle’s heritage was of long standing in that. My aunt’s came via her New Orleans mother, who brought the religion of Cranmer and Laud to the iron works people. (One thing my aunt never adopted from her husband was his family’s Democrat politics; she was a Republican when she married him and one when she buried him).
For all of its defects–and it did have some–the kind of Episcopalianism (to use Tooley’s odd-sounding word) that was practised by the Byrds and my aunt and uncle–and to a lesser degree by my parents–was a good civic religion which inculcated a sense of fairness and equity into those who led our society. Its doom came when our society decided that this kind of belief and conduct structure was too bourgeois and philistine for its taste. Subsequent events have shown that the replacement has not been an improvement.
The worst part of it is that a great deal of the destruction of the old Episcopal ethic came at the hands of Episcopalians themselves, and specifically the left-wing ministers who have come to control the church. But I went on one rant about that already, involving the Diocese of Virginia, and one was enough.
The old Episcopal Church and people like the Byrds and my aunt and uncle who inhabited it is largely gone, and those of us who want to make it in this life and the life to come must make other arrangements.