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Though the Church of England is now the only church within these islands and within the 80 million strong worldwide Anglican Communion which is still by law established, and though this has often been questioned as an archaic privilege in an increasingly plural age, there has hitherto been little political enthusiasm to pursue disestablishment. Once the dust has settled on the Church’s embarrassment at being temporarily thwarted by a hard-line minority over women bishops, it remains to be seen whether anything different will happen this time.
The Church itself has remained fiercely protective of what it sees as its solidifying, pastoral role in society. It argues that it can act as a reminder that there is a higher authority than politicking to which public life needs to be held to account, that an Established church can usefully reflect the concerns of religion and morality more widely in a mixed-belief society, and that its significant voluntary contribution to civic society and an expanding role in education under governments of all stripes merit continuing recognition within the country’s unwritten constitutional settlement. This remains the case, establishment's supporters argue, in spite of the falling numbers and financial challenges that have afflicted the Church in recent years, which means that around a million people (out of a population of 50 million) consistently attend its weekly services.
Scepticism is growing, however, and has reached a new peak this past week.
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