On 9th September 2022 the House of Lords met to hear tributes to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, whose death had been announced. The Archbishop of Canterbury paid tribute, on behalf of the Lords Spiritual.
My Lords, one of the greatest privileges of sitting on these Benches is that, within a year or so of becoming a diocesan bishop, you are invited to spend a weekend at Sandringham. While there, often in January, you go for a barbeque—fortitude. You have the enormous gift given to you of being able to spend time with Her late Majesty, with her family, with the jigsaw puzzle and all the other things that are there. Thus, on behalf of these Benches—I know from the conversations we have among ourselves—there is a profound sense of personal sorrow and an even more profound sense of the significance of the virtues of the characteristics of the late Queen.
What has been said already today has been extraordinarily eloquent. I do not intend to repeat it but to say something about the Queen’s links to faith and to the Church of England. First is her assurance, her confidence, in the God who called her. At her coronation, so long ago, conducted by Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher—the first of seven Archbishops of Canterbury who had the privilege of serving her—the service began with her walking by herself past the Throne, where she would very shortly be seated, and kneeling by the high altar of Westminster Abbey. The order of service said, “She will kneel in private prayer”—and so she did, for some time. The next thing to happen was that homage was paid to her, starting with the Duke of Edinburgh. What that said about her understanding of her role was that she pledged her allegiance to God before others pledged their allegiance to her. She had this profound sense of who she was and by whom she was called.
Then there was her profound, deep and extraordinary theological vision. Many years ago now—seven or eight years ago—I was travelling abroad, and someone who had no knowledge of these things said, “Well, of course, she’s not really got that much intellect, has she? I mean, private tutors and all this—what can she know?” Well, what ignorance! In 2012, she spoke at Lambeth Palace on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, and the speech she made there is one we return to very frequently, because she set out a vision for what an established Church should be. It was not a vision of comfort and privilege; it was to say, put very politely, “You are here as an umbrella for the whole people of this land”. The subtext was, “If you are not that, you are nothing”. That is a deep vision of what it is to be the Church—of what it is to be not an established Church but a Christian Church. That came from her deep understanding of faith. Every five years, at the inauguration of the Church of England’s General Synod, she came with messages of encouragement and assurance of her prayers. In 2021, her message was,
“my hope is that you will be strengthened with the certainty of the love of God, as you work together and draw on the Church’s tradition of unity in fellowship for the tasks ahead.”
Publicly, Her late Majesty worshipped regularly and spoke of her faith in God, particularly in her Christmas broadcasts, with quiet, gentle confidence. Privately, she was an inspiring and helpful guide and questioner to me and to my predecessors. She had a dry sense of humour, as we have heard already, and the ability to spot the absurd—the Church of England was very capable of giving her material—but she never exercised that at the expense of others. When I last saw her in June, her memory was as sharp as it could ever have been. She remembered meetings from 40 or 50 years ago and drew on the lessons from those times to speak of today and what we needed to learn: assurance of the love of God in her call, and then humility. It would be easy as a monarch to be proud, but she was everything but that. It was her faith that gave her strength. She knew that, but she knew also her call to be a servant, the one whom she served, and the nation she served, the Commonwealth and the world.
Over the last 24 hours, I have had so many messages from archbishops, bishops and other people around the world, within the Commonwealth and way beyond it—from China, Latin America and many other places—in a deep sense of loss.
It has been the privilege of those on these Benches to be intimately involved with momentous occasions so often throughout Her late Majesty’s life. As has been said, she has been a presence for as long as we can remember. Jesus says in the Gospel of St Matthew:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”.
May God comfort all those who grieve Her late Majesty’s loss, and may God sustain His Majesty King Charles III in the enormous weight and challenges that he takes on immediately, at the same as he bears the burden of grief, and those around him in his family. May God hold Her late Majesty in His presence, firmly secured in the peace that passes far beyond our understanding.