Today is, as all of us in the UK are aware, the 90th birthday of Her Majesty the Queen, and apart from the professional miserablists in places like the Guardian (which, predictably, ran a story criticising the Queen – those who want such nonsense can find the link themselves) and parts of the (never did a day’s) Workers’ Revolutionary Party, it is one in which her subjects join in not only wishing her a happy birthday, but also in celebrating a life of service to the Kingdom of which she is the head. She was not born to be Queen, and had her uncle David (Edward VIII) not shown a deplorable lack of a sense of duty, she would probably have married a member of the aristocracy and lived the life of an English country lady, which would probably have suited her own tastes and interests better – and would certainly not have seen her still working at the age of 90. But fate, or for those of us who believe in Providence, God, decreed otherwise. The country got a King whose devotion to duty during the Second World War cemented the monarchy in the country’s affections, and then a beautiful young Queen who has now sat on the throne for longer than any other monarch in our history.
She promised that her life, however short or long, would be one of service to the Nation, and she has been faithful to that vow. That vow was one made before God, and Her Majesty is not simply Head of the Church of England, she is a practising and devout Anglican who, in carrying out her duties, does so because they are a charge from God. She cannot stand away from them just because she is old and gets tired – she made a solemn promise to God at her coronation, and she will keep it until the end. She is a shining example of Christian commitment. Her role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England is an important guarantee that the Church has a role in the public square, and the way in which she, and the Church, carry out that role has ensured that other churches – and faiths – get a voice in that square. The Church of England has been a benign hegemon – it has not (at least for many centuries now) sought to suppress other Christian churches, or to push to the margins non-Christian faiths. There will, no doubt (there always are) be those who say that as a Christian country, ‘we’ (whoever we are) should insist on Christianity dominating the public sphere, but in so far as any faith can do that nowadays in the UK, that is already the case, and the Queen, like the Church of England, is conscious of a woder role to represent all faiths against an increasingly aggressive secularism. As she, herself said in a speech during her Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012 (and it is said she wrote this herself):
‘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. It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.’
That the Church of England has done that, is a tribute to it and to the Queen herself. Long Live the Queen – God save the Queen!