They are a little-understood group - some say they're the Anglican Opus Dei. Certainly, and probably with good reason, they are secretive. But their power within the Church of England, even at what seems to be their darkest time, is hard to imagine.
In many ways, the link between Anglican clergymen (I use the gendered term avisedly) and steam trains is easy to comprehend. An outdated concept, out of touch with modern technology and of no use to the present day, using obsolete terminology and achieving its ends inefficiently and unreliably - and steam locomotives aren't much better than the Church of England. Do you know the distinction between a train and a locomotive, by the way? Use the terms interchangeably and someone will soon tell you the difference. You will also learn why, in some Iron-age languages, the words for "pedant" and "sacrificial victim" were the same.
The Awdryites accept three holy canons - the Bible, the BCP, and the "Thomas the Tank Engine" stories. Of these three, the greatest is Thomas. Their prophet is the Rev W Awdry himself, and his works are regarded as a coal-fired parable for the life lived well.
The Awdryites are an all-male, all-clergy group. In theory women are eligible to join. In practice none has ever tried. This is probably because of the world-view that Awbry presented. All the lead characters - the engines - are male. The passive, awkward coaches are female. The exemplars of feminine virtue on the island of Sodor are Annie and Clarabel - at their best when placidly going where they are told.
The meetings of the Awdryites are held, secretively, in Gothic railway station waiting rooms, during the day, when they hope nobody is looking. Each member of the "shed" is allotted the name of one of Thomas's friends - Henry, Douglas, whatever. They swear allegiance to the shadow figure known as the "Fat Controller", and vow that they will always be ready to help pull one another's burdens, and to oppose all rebellion by trucks.
Any member of the Awdryites that breaks one of the group's many, tedious rules is assigned the role of "Dirty Diesel". They are treated as a hissing and a byword until "The Great Western shall rise again".
At the end of each meeting of the Awdryites, Dr Beeching is burnt in effigy, while an uplifting Betjeman poem is read. They have long memories, the Awdryites.
However, the most controversial aspect of the Awdryites is the "Thomas Oath", featuring the line "I will strive to be a really useful engine, that at the end I may attain the heavenly sidings prepared for all tank engines." Some claim this is proof that the Awdryites believe in salvation through works. But others just say
that's the least of their problems.