Is there anything left to be said about The Queen? She’s Britain’s longest serving monarch, she has been served by eleven Prime Ministers and, through her longevity, has seen off more Presidents and Heads of State than it would be polite to list. (The list includes twelve U.S. Presidents!) As the United Kingdom and many other nations celebrate her 90th birthday this June, it is hard even for the toughest-minded Republican not to admire her energy and dignity.
At St Nick’s we shall be holding events to commemorate and celebrate the Queen’s 90th over the weekend of 11th and 12th June. Our Summer Fair takes place on the 11th and it promises to have a festive feel with much red, white and blue on display. Let’s hope for good weather and an excellent turn-out.
We, like many CofE churches, shall also have a ‘Life at Our Church’ display. St Nick’s may be a little younger than the Queen, but it doesn’t mean we haven’t got a lot of history to share! On Sunday morning we shall also have a special All-Age Worship for the Queen’s Birthday.
One of the things we should ask ourselves at this time is: What are we celebrating? I suspect there will be many different answers to that. For some the answer will be, ‘Majesty and Pomp’, ‘the Queen’s faithfulness’ and, no doubt, ‘Britishness’. For some it’s good to have an excuse to party. However, I sense many of us will be uncomfortable with flag-waving and nationalist sentiment.
Jingoism is often terribly self-indulgent and one of the lessons of the 20th Century is that mindless nationalism is a recipe for violence.
It’s hardly secret that I’m not much of a Monarchist. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect the Queen or her office as Head of State. As I often point out, as a CofE cleric, I pray for her all the time! What I hope we can concentrate on, during this 90th year of her life, is two things: firstly, her quiet, determined and obvious faith and the
emergent, diverse Kingdom she’s presided over.
There is simply no doubt that the Queen takes her role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England very seriously. However, it is her faith which is striking. Rarely does she draw unnecessary attention to it, but it is clearly lively. She has spoken of the consolations ‘faith in Christ’ has offered in troubled times. I find this
lack of showy, shiny faith incredibly powerful. For if she is an icon of something, surely it is as an icon of quiet confidence.
So often I feel as if the dominant narrative in Christianity is based on the cheap tinsel of direct evangelism. That is, on crude, often quite insulting attempts to convert people to a particular brand of Christianity. Yet I fear that such an approach is counter-productive. It is in our being – our living as well as in our saying – that we
embody the good news.
The Queen’s long reign has been marked by remarkable shifts in the life of the United Kingdom, perhaps the most remarkable shifts in these islands’ long history. It has been marked by a retreat from Empire. The UK has become part of the European Community and learnt to reposition itself in the world. Some of these shifts have been traumatic for lots of people. They have led to nostalgia for ‘a better world’ that almost certainly never was. Equally, the UK has never been more diverse, open and varied. Even in my lifetime there have been shifts in culture, taste and inclusion that sometimes feel unimaginable. I hope we can celebrate this. I know there is very far to go, but the United Kingdom has undertaken an adventure in being open to change that I hope we won’t retreat from. And the Queen has presided over all of this. That is one heck of a legacy!
So, in the weeks, months and, indeed, years to come, when our faithfulness as a church community is tested – our faithfulness to the generosity of God and our faithfulness to the gracious, inclusive ethos we want to embody – I hope we can dare look to the Queen as example. Not because she’s the Monarch, or she’s perfect or any other such thing, but because she’s got on with being faithful to God and to public service.