As a child, I was brought up to consider the Royal Family a bunch of rich freeloaders living it up at the expense of us taxpayers – and at the Silver Jubilee in 1977 my revision for my Finals at Oxford was accompanied by the dulcet tones of Johnny Rotten, belting out the Sex Pistols’ version of ‘God Save the Queen’.
And yet, 45 years later, on this Platinum Jubilee weekend, I find myself admiring Her Majesty the Queen more and more – and praying that she will indeed ‘long reign over us’. So what has changed? As with so many things, my personal experience of what was previously unknown has confronted my initial prejudices, in the many and different occasions when I have been privileged to meet HMQ – usually in the context of prayer and worship.
It began during my first year as an undergraduate when I was invited to Windsor Castle to be invested as a Queen’s Scout (along with my Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award) – something the Queen has always taken seriously and tried to perform personally. What I expected to would be a load of mumbo-jumbo and Court flouncing about turned out to be a profoundly moving and deeply Christian act of worship in the most gorgeous St George’s Chapel, which deeply impressed me as someone who had only recently entered into a fuller understanding of my own Christian faith and commitment. Additionally, in her (necessarily brief) individual conversations with those of us to whom she was presenting the certificates and badges, she was clearly trying hard to take a personal interest, and I felt very affirmed.
Subsequently, I found myself listening carefully to her messages, and especially her Christmas broadcasts, which have seemed over the years to grow more and more explicit about her Christian faith and how it sustains her in her daily life. At the same time, I have been impressed with the way she has reached out to the other major faiths now part of our society in a positive and affirming way, without compromising her own faith – a good example to the rest of us.
During my twenty-five years as Dean of King’s College London, we seemed to meet quite regularly, and nearly always in church services or receptions afterwards. In May 1999, I was honoured to preach in the presence of HM the Queen and Prince Philip at the service in the University Church to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the bequest of William of Durham in 1249 for the founding of the University Hall in Oxford – what we know better today as University College or Univ., the first benefaction for higher education anywhere in the English-speaking world. I preached on ‘Yesterday, Today, Forever’ and while this phrase refers to Jesus Christ in Hebrews 11, it also seemed appropriate to both Univ. and Oxford itself at the time – and now, on the Platinum Jubilee, it seems highly relevant to the Queen’s reign itself!
Later that year, as the person responsible for writing all the material about Jesus in the Faith Zone of the Dome, I was delighted to be invited with my family to spend Millennium Eve with the Queen and Prince Philip on the royal barge going down the Thames, lighting the fireworks, in order to join the Archbishop of Canterbury to pray for the new millennium at the Dome. During the couple of hours we spent together on the boat, it was a privilege to engage in personal conversation beyond the usual handshake.
During 2001-2002, I was closely involved in the conversion of the old Public Records Office in Chancery Lane into the Maughan Library for King’s, including the former Rolls Chapel, which incorporated the remains (and some of the monuments) of the mediaeval House of the Converts, especially the exciting discovery of the original tessellated mosaic floor. So it was a joy to be able to show this to Her Majesty when she formally opened the new Library in November 2002 – and again she wanted to know about the Chapel, its worship and its history.
But it was at Cumberland Lodge, an educational charitable foundation next door to Royal Lodge in Windsor Great Park that I most often met the Queen – at the regular Sunday morning services in the little Chapel Royal. Her pew was (mostly) curtained off, in order to allow her to pray and worship without people gawking at her – but she always made a bee-line out of her private back door to the main church door to greet the students which we would take for weekends at the Lodge and to pray in the chapel. To witness Her Majesty at prayer, and then enjoying talking to my students, who were often from Commonwealth countries, brought home to me time and time again the reality of her own deep faith and her determined sense of Christian duty to serve God, and her people in the UK and around the globe.
And so after 70 years of her reign, I want to thank the Queen whole-heartedly for her example of her Christian commitment and duty, and her life of faith, and I find myself still praying, ‘God save the Queen’ – and even adding as my ‘Amen’, Johnny Rotten’s final shouts of “we mean it, man!”.
For another helpful analysis of the Queen’s Christian faith, see the article on the Christianity website here.