On 9th September 2022 the House of Lords met to hear tributes to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, whose death had been announced. The Bishop of Guildford paid tribute:
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, I have been deeply moved by many of the contributions this afternoon and share all the sentiments that have been so eloquently expressed. It is a phrase used far too often, but yesterday was truly the end of an era—and a glorious era. Much has been spoken already of the Queen’s remarkable sense of service, emanating from her love for her nation and the Commonwealth, and from her deep faith in the Christ who came as one who serves. But alongside that were two further virtues, contained in another favoured Bible text from the outset of Her Majesty’s reign: the words of Moses to his successor, Joshua, when he exhorted the younger man to:
“Be strong and courageous … for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”.
What kind of person would be willing to sacrifice their own preferences, private life and retirement plans for the sake of a nation and family of nations? What kind of person would be prepared to carry out such a punishing schedule of public engagements with extraordinary grace, month after month and year after year, even three or four decades after most of their contemporaries have opted for a quiet life of golf or daytime TV? What kind of person would put up with the endless intrusions of the press, making the odd family annus horribilis, with which we all sympathise, infinitely more difficult to bear? What kind of person would offer a listening ear to politicians, Prime Ministers and Presidents alike, while holding to the discipline of never straying into the political arena themselves? It is a strong and courageous person—a person whose commitment to duty, as we have heard, overrode all else.
There must have been times when the gilded carriage which took her to her Coronation felt like a gilded cage, and when the pressure became almost too much to bear, not least in the past couple of years, when she faced many challenges without her beloved Philip by her side. But in an age where personal vulnerability is lauded as the greatest of all virtues and we are constantly concerned about our own well-being, there is something refreshingly unfashionable about the way in which Her Majesty lived her life and carried out her duties. It is not that we can turn the clock back, nor is it that the British stiff upper lip is an unqualified virtue, but there is something about genuine selflessness and a life where the ego is kept firmly in its place, in response to a higher and nobler calling, which has something to teach us all.
I experienced it at first hand in my two personal encounters with Her Majesty, including a remarkable weekend at Sandringham, which concluded with us companionably sitting side by side and sharing our photo albums together—with Willow, the last of the corgis, sitting at our feet. It was such a warm domestic scene that I was genuinely startled after 20 minutes or so to look up, see that famous profile and realise with a jolt “That’s the Queen”.
Much has already been spoken of the Christian faith which lay at the heart of her service, most recently from the noble Lord, Lord Dodds. If she was the rock, Jesus Christ was the rock beneath the rock. Hers was a faith about which she was entirely open but never preachy; a faith that was real and personal but never trite or sentimental; a faith that was deeply nourishing but never sectarian. It was a faith beautifully exemplified in a phrase that has gained some currency in Christian circles: “Roots down, walls down”, meaning that those most secure in their own understanding and identity should be those who are most warm and undefended towards those who are differently rooted.
There are two bricks in the cathedral church from which I travelled to the House this morning, two among the very many bricks for which tens of thousands of Surrey residents—and many others too, my grandmother included—paid 2/6 to see Guildford Cathedral, the Cathedral Church of the Holy Spirit, erected. They bear the signatures of Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, a reminder of one of several visits they paid to the cathedral and very many to the town and county. Perhaps it was providential that when we gathered there earlier this year to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, it was on the day of Pentecost, the festival when Christians celebrate the coming of God’s Holy Spirit. This spirit empowered Her Majesty to live the life she lived through every annus horribilis and every annus mirabilis of the past 70—indeed, the past 96—years. As others have expressed, may she indeed rest in peace and rise in glory.