Paul Gateshill explores the deep faith of the late Queen Elizabeth II.
[New City Magazine – November 2022, pages 4-5]
You don’t have to be a monarchist in order to appreciate the huge contribution Queen Elizabeth II brought to the United Kingdom, Commonwealth countries and beyond, during her 70 year reign. Her recent death brought a worldwide response with messages of condolence revealing the deepest respect for what she had given to the world at large.
Her deep Christian faith was no secret. It was the backdrop for many of her Christmas messages. In 2002 during her Christmas broadcast she confided:
‘I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God… I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian Gospel.’
In her Christmas broadcast in 2008 she declared:
‘I hope that, like me, you will be comforted by the example of Jesus of Nazareth, who, often in circumstances of great adversity, managed to live an outgoing, unselfish and sacrificial life. Countless millions of people around the world continue to celebrate his birthday at Christmas, inspired by his teaching. He makes it clear that genuine human happiness and satisfaction lie more in giving than in receiving; more in serving than in being served.
We can surely be grateful that, two thousand years after the birth of Jesus, so many of us are able to draw inspiration from his life and message, and to find in him a source of strength and courage.’
This theme of service was to be with the Queen throughout her reign. In a radio broadcast celebrating her 21st birthday she solemnly promised:
‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service… But I shall not have strength to carry out this resolution alone unless you join in it with me… God help me to make good my vow…’
This commitment to serve her people was evidenced by her working more than 50 hours a week for most of her working life and then still working more than 40, in her 90th year. In total, she appointed 15 Prime Ministers and met with each one on a weekly basis. Her first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill. Her last was Liz Truss, whom she appointed just two days before her death.
Forgiveness and reconciliation
In her 2011 Christmas address the Queen spoke about the need for forgiveness: ‘Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families; it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.’
Forgiveness and reconciliation were very much at the heart of the Queen’s life. In 2011 she visited the Republic of Ireland and then in 2012 she made a two-day visit to Northern Ireland, meeting with people from both sides of the conflict. This was in spite of the assassination of Earl Mountbatten by the IRA in 1979. Her humility and regret for the divisions between Protestants and Catholics won over the hearts of many during those two historic visits (see correspondence page 6).
The Queen was the first British monarch to meet with a pope since the Reformation. As Princess Elizabeth she met with Pius XII in 1951 and then with four more popes as monarch, including Pope Francis in 2014.
Queen Elizabeth II was keen, not just to build bridges with Christians from different denominations, but also in interfaith dialogue.
The Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote: ‘Jews have a deep respect for the Queen and the Royal Family… Something similar, in my experience, is true of the other minority faiths in Britain. They value the Queen because they know she values them. She makes them feel, not strangers in a strange land, but respected citizens at home.’
In a speech she gave to UK faith leaders at Lambeth Palace in 2012, she explained her role as the ‘Supreme Governor of the Church of England’:
‘The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country… Gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith, to live freely.’
One human family
In her Christmas address in 2007 she spoke about the importance of the family, and drew upon the experience of Joseph, Mary and the newly born Jesus who ‘found no room at the inn. They had to make do in a stable… This was a family which had been shut out. Perhaps it was because of this early experience that, throughout his ministry, Jesus of Nazareth reached out and made friends with people who others ignored or despised. It was in this way that he proclaimed his belief that, in the end, we are all brothers and sisters in one human family.’
Photo: ©Tony Skottowe