Home Christian News Elizabeth II’s 70 Years as Head of the Church of England

Elizabeth II’s 70 Years as Head of the Church of England

She went on to speak very personally and frankly about her faith: “For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.” Similar sentiments have been aired at Christmas ever since.

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God did get significant mention along the way. In 1947, when she was 21 and six years from becoming queen, Elizabeth broadcast a public commitment, saying: “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service … God help me to make good my vow.”

As she planned her coronation with dress fittings, selecting music and getting the crown jewels from their display in the Tower of London, there were also sessions with then-Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher, who provided her with a book of special prayers — a volume she keeps to this day among her most treasured possessions.

The spiritual foundations of the British monarchy are to be found in Scripture’s ideas about humility and wisdom being the great virtues of kings. Then there are the Gospels, with accounts of Jesus, the servant king, who has come to serve others. Key passages on this theme, from the Gospels of John and Matthew, are read at a Maundy Thursday service where the queen distributes gifts to elderly people, an ancient ceremony meant to imitate Christ serving his disciples by washing their feet.

The queen also leads the nation at regular services honoring the war dead, or offering thanksgiving for her jubilees, but worship is not, for her, only a public show. She has attended church regularly throughout her life and is said to have an uncomplicated, Bible and prayer-book based faith.

That love of the Bible was something she shared with the American evangelist Billy Graham, whom she invited to preach for her on several occasions (though the close friendship the Netflix series “The Crown” suggested between them seems far-fetched). She relies on the deans of Windsor — the clerics who run St George’s Chapel, at Windsor Castle, where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle married — for spiritual solace.

Her husband, the late Duke of Edinburgh, and her son, Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, always displayed a more intellectual curiosity about religion, including a great interest in both other Christian denominations and other faiths. Over the years, as Britain has become increasingly diverse, Elizabeth has expressed an increasing openness as well. She has encouraged members of all faiths to be present at great church occasions during her reign and in the annual Commonwealth Day service held at Westminster Abbey. She regularly meets different faith leaders, including five popes — a remarkable turnaround for a monarchy that once broke so spectacularly from Rome — though she has not gone so far as to ask other religious leaders to play any sort of role for her, such as be a chaplain.

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There has been talk of disestablishment of the Church of England, even in Anglican circles, with some concern it privileges one religious group above others in an increasingly diverse nation. Disestablishment would unravel the connection between the monarch, the Church of England and the state, which survives in Britain since the time of the Reformation. Change would mean the removal of Church of England bishops from the House of Lords, although there has been little call for this from other faiths. Rather, they prefer representation of faith at the highest levels of the British Parliament.

But that issue of privileging seemed apparent when the queen spoke at Lambeth Palace in 2012, suggesting the Church of England might act as a sort of umbrella under which other faiths might shelter, by saying Anglicanism “has a duty to protect the free practice of all other faiths in this country.”

The importance of other faiths was expressed Friday morning at the Platinum Jubilee thanksgiving service at St Paul’s Cathedral, in London, where not only leaders of Christian denominations but of other faiths were present, including Buddhists and Jews.

One major difference at today’s thanksgiving service compared to previous ones for her reign’s major anniversaries was the frequent references to looking after God’s creation. In the twilight years of her reign, she is coming to share Prince Charles’ interest in the environment, but placing it firmly within her Christian concerns.