Why are Episcopalians so fond of Downton Abbey?

Anecdotal evidence, and my twitter stream, suggests that Episcopalians are disproportionately fond of Downton Abbey, which ended its third season last night. Why is that?

Does the show appeal to Episcopalians in a particular way? Or does it appeal not so much to Episcopalians, but to the social classes to which most Episcopalians belong?

Category : The Lead

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19 Comments
  1. Jonatwabash

    Perhaps it’s just that Episcopalians are significantly more likely to be Anglophiles than the general population.

    Jonathan Galliher

  2. Katherine Ewen Harper

    I enjoy Downton Abbey. Perhaps my attraction is a bit about becoming something of an Anglophile because I enjoy learning of (some of!) the roots of the church.

  3. Robin Garr

    I think Jonathan G is correct.

  4. Rod Gillis

    D-Abbey with spiffy clothes, fab buildings, British accents, hierarchical society–what could be more Anglican Esque?

  5. tgflux

    A cook, a housemaid, a valet, and a residence large/grand enough to house us all: yeah, I could get used to it. ;-/

    JC Fisher

    I’d probably spend more time in the parish church than we usually see the Crawleys doing, though.

  6. Ronaldsteed

    naaa… we just want to be able to understand all those altar-guild witticisms that the Dowager Countess of Grantham keeps throwing out!

    Ronald Steed

  7. “Does the show appeal to Episcopalians in a particular way? Or does it appeal not so much to Episcopalians, but to the social classes to which most Episcopalians belong?”

    I recently moved to a new state, and my new parish is a very large and wealthy one, quite different from the small, struggling yet vibrant congregation I came from. And I do get weary of having to pretend to be wealthy in order to fit in at coffee hour, as people discuss the latest remodel of their suburban kitchen and the like.

    However, to imply that most Episcopalians belong to an American equivalent of titled, manor-owning, old-money English aristocracy is a wee bit of an exaggeration, don’t you think?

  8. Pmgentry

    In his sermon last Sunday, our priest had to specifically remind the (wealthy, highly Anglophilic) congregation not to be too “Downton Abbey.”

    Phil Gentry

  9. Jim Naughton

    Linda, I am not implying that Episcopalians belong to the same social class as the Granthams. I am asking whether something about the show appeals in a particular way to the educated middle and upper middle class white people who make up a significant swath of the Episcopal Church.

  10. Ann Fontaine

    I watch it like I watch any soap opera although this one has better acting, great clothes, and accents (I have to turn on Closed Captioning to understand it some of the time!). Since my grandparents emigrated from Scotland – and worked in the mills and as roofers (slate roofs) – I don’t really identify with above stairs. The downstairs crew is more like the people I knew growing up. I am interested in the dynamic of oppression that make people oppress one another to maintain their tiny bit of status. And then too – I watch any show with Maggie Smith!

  11. Ronald Caldwell

    It is simple. Episcopalians are Anglophiles as we look back fondly to the Church of England. This series, however, is not very kind to Anglicanism where the local church and the vicar lurk on the edges among the other heavies, the earl and the butler. Indeed, this show tells us much more about life in the early 21st century than life in the early 20th century. On the whole I have been disappointed in the series since I was spoiled by the incomparable Upstairs Downstairs. The best reason to watch DA is to see the greatest living actress at work, Maggie Smith. Even with the narrow characterization given her by Fellowes, she breathes life into his preposterous plots, radiates her presence and steals every scene (not hard to do).

  12. John Campbell

    I have intentionally avoided watching the show for a long time specifically BECAUSE it is such rampant Anglophilia. And rampant Anglophilia is part of what is destroying the Episcopal Church. Instead of viewing the Anglican heritage for what it is–a historically active evangelical institution with an orthodox and unique theological perspective–it has become for so many Episcopalians a sort of pretend romanticized Church of England focused on things that don’t matter. As Rod Gillis states above, “…with spiffy clothes, fab buildings, British accents, heirarchical society – what could be more Anglican-esque?” I’ll tell you what could be more Anglican-esque: A black, 18-year-old peasant girl somewhere in the Sudan, perhaps owning one or two simple outfits, living in a shack, having little education, attending church in a prefabricated pavilion, fearing slaughter by the Muslims, yet all the while confessing Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior to the exclusion of all others, acknowledging his power to transform lives, and thirsting to snatch souls from the jaws of Hell by converting them to Christ. When Episcopalinas see this as “Anglican-esque” rather than some kind of perpetual Edwardian twilight that’s all about the buildings and clothes yet devoid of theological substance, maybe then I’ll start watching Downton Abbey.

    John Campbell

  13. www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2347516

    I find Downton Abbey incredibly enlightening sociologically. I believe it shows the culture and social caste system from which we still have a hangover. Many of our presumptions about what is (how receptions are to be done, summers off syndrome, our gut sense of who constitutes insiders and outsiders socio-economically and racially, how much Christian education we need, how God is related to our lives and the lives of others) have their roots in the world portrayed in Downton. I appreciate the show for the portrayal of social and cultural change spurred on by technological change, and the great parallels to our own age. Their challenge is not that different from ours: how to stay true to our identity while adapting faithfully to the new realities with which we are now faced.

    I am always a bit bemused by the portrayal of clergy on the show. They seem to be beholden to the landed gentry, and rarely wise.

    Sean Ferrell

  14. Rod Gillis

    Re John Campbell,John, I should point out two things about my post (1) It was meant to be read as political sardonicism

    motivated in a parody of comparable variables (2) I’ve only seen about twenty minutes of DA, the final twenty of the closing episode as it happens, sitting with a family member who was watching it while I was surfing news websites. I found the whole thing to be capital D boring as in “dullesville.”

    If folks want a real look at what the time period was like, take in some of the grainy b&w footage of coal miners at work at the time, or working class chaps stoking the engines on H.M. Dreadnaughts. Downton does for the era what Disney does for North American history. But hey, DA, the Bold and the Beautiful, The Academy Awards, its all about re-inventing the gods for us mere mortals.

  15. Ann Fontaine

    John: I think many us are very aware of Sudan and the Anglicans in Sudan – many who watch Downton Abbey even go there to serve. Downton Abbey is fantasy – doubt too many of us are planning to become the “upstairs” crew. More we have that sense that is portrayed by Tom Branson – torn between knowing another life and the trials of that life and living in the midst of abundance and complicity and participation in what makes others in the world poor. DA is escapism with an edge of our dilemma. But you don’t watch it so you would not know this.

  16. C. Wingate

    I’ve only seen season 3 episodes, so perhaps my picture of what is going on is going to be quite a bit different from others. I suspect, though, that most American viewers, and perhaps even younger Brits, simply do not understand the class structure issues; the constant concern in the third season about good references, for example, is foreign to the US vision that anyone can reinvent themselves as needed.

    What’s most striking to me, and most germane to this forum, is the very frequent appearances in the this season to mercy and redemption. Even O’Brien, who is to my mind the most readily despised character, shows hints of repentance in the last episode of the season.

    But surely the high point for any Anglican viewer must be the cameo by Cosmo Lang!

  17. Bill Dilworth

    I’m not so sure that it’s an Episcopalian thing. I was surprised to find that a buddy of mine from the Navy with whom I’m FB friends has been watching the show. He’s working class, definitely not Episcopalian, and didn’t go to college – I would not have pegged him as being entranced by goings-on at an Edwardian manor house. Maybe the Episcopalians who watch it aren’t so different from other viewers: they like a good story.

    And by the way, I refuse to apologize for or cede to guilt trips about my Anglophilia, with or without the “bloody shirt” of anonymous Sudanese girls being waved in my face.

  18. Cynthia Katsarelis

    It’s the theology of Mrs. Hughes!!!!

    (OK, and Maggie Smith’s pithy quotes).

  19. tgflux

    I’ll tell you what could be more Anglican-esque: A black, 18-year-old peasant girl somewhere in the Sudan, perhaps owning one or two simple outfits, living in a shack, having little education, attending church in a prefabricated pavilion, fearing slaughter by the Muslims, yet all the while confessing Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior to the exclusion of all others, acknowledging his power to transform lives, and thirsting to snatch souls from the jaws of Hell by converting them to Christ. When Episcopalinas see this as “Anglican-esque”

    Sorry, No.

    Whether Sudanese or anywhere else, “Turn or BURN!” is *not* authentically Anglican (“Scripture, Tradition and REASON”/”No windows into souls”/Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral), in the best sense of Anglican tradition.

    The passing off of this Christianist fakery as “Anglican” is the reason for so much conflict [not to mention VIOLENCE, towards the putative Hellbound (LGBTs)] in the Anglican Communion.

    JohnC, I rather resent the dressing-up of Christianist Fundamentalism as that of a “18-year-old peasant girl somewhere in the Sudan, perhaps owning one or two simple outfits, living in a shack, having little education, attending church in a prefabricated pavilion, fearing slaughter by the Muslims” as a manipulative means to get others of us to believe that narrow-minded judgmentalism is “Anglican-esque” WITH “theological substance”. It’s perfectly possible to be an indigenous Two-Thirds World Anglican w/o the “Turn or Burn (in this life or The Next!)” heresy: when they speak (see re +Desmond Tutu, as only the best known), I listen.

    If you’re just offering Fundy Christianism, however, I’d rather watch Downton Abbey.

    JC Fisher

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