I know my life is nothing like that of my opposite number across the river, the Dean of St Paul’s, who hosted the wonderful service of thanksgiving on Friday to celebrate the 90th birthday of The Queen, but even with our more modest celebrations at Southwark time has slipped through my fingers and so this is a very short but loyal blog.
I have always been fascinated by Her Majesty and when I was first bought the Ladybird Book of London I was captivated by the picture of the Palace and wondered what went on behind those many windows. So it was one of my greatest delights that on the eve of the Millennium I stood in the churchyard of the Cathedral with the lights and cameras trained on us awaiting the arrival of The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. All of a sudden there was a crescendo of cheering and down the steps came a diminutive but so familiar figure. I had to pinch myself to make sure that it wasn’t just another of my many dreams of sharing a cup of tea with her.
But what struck me so powerfully then and I’m ever more conscious of is how central her faith is to her reign. On that occasion, before she had to arrive at the Dome and share in ‘Auld lang syne’ with Mr Blair, Her Majesty wanted to begin the evening with prayer. So that’s what we did. The Queen lit the Millennium Candle and we prayed and the choir sang a new anthem using the text that King George VI quoted in his Christmas broadcast in 1939, words by Minnie Louise Haskins
And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
We always notice that Her Majesty so often walks unaided, no one is holding her hand. But it’s clear her hand is in the hand of God and her life has been one of service. From that beginning as one century ended and another began, I’ve had a sense of real privilege each time we have welcomed The Queen to Southwark. That culminated in her coming to see the Diamond Jubilee window – and what a thrill that was. As I stood at the west end of the Cathedral beside The Queen we sang the National Anthem and I was struck by two things which may to you seem blindingly obvious but affected me powerfully – a) that this was the person I was singing about and b) she was the only person not singing. It is a wonderful thing that our National Anthem is not about the country but is a prayer for this person. It sets us apart as she sets apart.
These are unsettling days as we approach the Referendum. I will be voting to remain and I am delighted that the Archbishop of Canterbury has given us the leadership to state our own positions. Yet, whilst being in Europe I remain rightly proud to be British and proud to sing that prayer of blessing on the person who continues to give us so much of our sense of identity.
God, save The Queen
and bless our nation
and bless our peoples.