A YEAR in preparation, it was a royal jubilee thanksgiving service in St Paul’s unlike any other; for not only was it the first Platinum Jubilee for any English monarch, but at the eleventh hour it had been announced that the Sovereign herself would not be present.
But a royal service is, first of all, an acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God. So everything went ahead with only minor changes, and the Queen’s was not the only absence to be noted: the Archbishop of York stood in as preacher for the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had tested positive for Covid (News, 30 May), as had Prince Andrew. But, rather than read out Archbishop Welby’s sermon, the Northern Primate preached his own.
It was understood that the Queen was viewing the service on television — a reversal of the circumstances of the Coronation, which popularised the medium — and the BBC commentator was David Dimbleby, whose father, Richard, had guided the viewers through that far longer service on their far smaller screens in June 1953.
So, in the course of his sermon, the Archbishop addressed the Queen directly, with a homely metaphor: “Now we all know that Her Majesty likes horse racing,” he said, “and I imagine Your Majesty will be watching this on the television.
“I don’t have any great tips for the Derby tomorrow, but since the scriptures describe life as a race set before us, let me observe that your long reign reflects the distance of Aintree more than the sprints of Epsom. Certainly, less dressage than most people imagine.
“But with endurance, through times of change and challenge, joy and sorrow, you continue to offer yourself in the service of our country and the Commonwealth. Your Majesty, we’re sorry you’re not with us this morning in person, but we are so glad you are still in the saddle. And we are all glad that there is still more to come.
“So, thank you for staying the course. Thank you for continuing to be faithful to the pledges you made 70 years ago. Thank you for showing us how service and faithfulness matter. People of all faiths and no faiths and people of good will can learn from this.”
He had just spoken of the best leaders as being, like St Paul and Christ himself, “those who know how to be led. People who lead for others, not themselves; people whose heart’s desire is to serve the common good and build up the common life, who don’t try to do it all themselves, or act in their own strength alone; people who take a longer view, and who seek out places of replenishing, even places where they might learn the mind of Christ.
“And I say this today, knowing that in Her Majesty the Queen we see an example of this kind of service: a staunch constancy and a steadfast consistency; a faithfulness to God; an obedience to a vocation that is the bedrock of her life. No, bedrock isn’t quite the right image. Faith in Jesus Christ is a fountain, and it is a well. It is the well from which we draw deeply and replenish ourselves through all the challenges, joys, and vicissitudes of life. And it is a fountain, overflowing with immense joy.”
He exhorted the congregation and the nation to follow this example. “Sometimes people say to me that the Christian faith is just a prop. I couldn’t agree more. I’m not ashamed to say I lean on Jesus Christ, that I’m trying to live close to his heart — that I need his wisdom and his hope. And, if you will forgive such presumption, this is what I also see in Her Majesty the Queen.
“And to the people of our great nation, on this great and historic day, I say this: we are indeed living in a time of uncertainty and challenge, and we would do well to consider where we will find the replenishing we need.
“What I see in Her Majesty the Queen is someone who has been able to serve our nation faithfully because of her faith in Jesus Christ. Perhaps there is no better way of celebrating her Platinum Jubilee than by doing the same ourselves.”
In contrast with the Queen’s Coronation Day, the heavens laughed with her in her Jubilee and did not open, so that the military ceremonial that had been planned for her arrival at the cathedral was not spoiled, and the crowds lining the approach to the cathedral were able to cheer (as some of them did for the Sussexes, or even boo, as some of them did for the Prime Minister) without having to worry about umbrellas.
Outside the great west door was a colourful parade of guardsmen in their scarlet uniforms. Armed forces of the UK and 13 Commonwealth countries lined the cathedral steps, where the Lord Mayor of London greeted a score of members of the royal family on their arrival by car and coach, headed by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Inside, they were received by the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of London, and the cathedral clergy, who wore the crimson and gold emblazoned copes from King George V’s 1935 Silver Jubilee.
Visiting from the United States, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex were escorted to their seats in a small procession of their own.
As on all such occasions, attendance was longer for most of the congregation than for the royal party; the nave seating had filled up well in advance, and it was possible to spot in it former Prime Ministers and current Commonwealth High Commissioners, amid a panoply of suits and medals, morning coats, uniforms, hats, and fascinators.
The congregation heard a wide variety of music played by the acting sub-organist, Martin Ford, and by the Band of HM Royal Marines Portsmouth, and watched the entry of the choirs of St Paul’s and the Chapel Royal, the ecumenical dignitaries, the College of Canons, the Serjeant of the Vestry, the Sub-Dean of the Chapels Royal, the Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland, the Keeper and the Clerk of the Closet, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Representative of the Archbishop of Wales, and the Moderator of the General Assembly.
Despite the Queen’s absence, her Body Guard with their distinctive plumes still added their dignity to the scene, as did 22 prebendaries and six archdeacons, as well as London suffragans.
After Parry’s Coronation anthem “I was Glad”, during which the royal procession took place, the Dean, the Very Revd Dr David Ison, read the Bidding Prayer, pointing the congregation to the fact that they would not only be giving thanks, but making commitments, before he led them in the Lord’s Prayer.
The hymn “Christ is made the sure foundation”, sung to Westminster Abbey (arranged by John Rutter), and the collect (the Bishop of London, standing at the nave altar), and a reading of 1 Chronicles 16. 8-15, 31-34 by the Canon Chancellor, Dr Paula Gooder, were followed by Psalm 24 to a chant by Barnby, and the Prime Minister’s reading of Philippians 4.4-9, on which the Archbishop’s sermon was based.
Another well-known hymn, “Immortal, invisible”, preceded the sermon, which was followed by a blazing setting of the Benedicite in G (Op. 13a) by Francis Jackson — a CBE who died at the beginning of the year, aged 104.
Prayers were led by the Sacrist, the Revd Robert Coupland; John Aylward, a Royal Voluntary Service volunteer; the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Scotland of Asthal; a City of London sea cadet, Samarah Rosario Dado; and the Royal Forestry Society’s president, Sir James Scott.
Then the combined choirs, under the direction of Andrew Carwood, sang the specially composed anthem “By Wisdom” to the words of Proverbs 3.13-19 — “Happy is the one who finds Wisdom” — by the Master of The Queen’s Music, Judith Weir. The piece began quietly in the treble voices before building up to the full choir. In an interview before the service, the composer suggested a parallel with the Queen’s life of duty, which had begun in her youth.
The Act of Commitment was led by the Succentor, the Revd Robert Kozak, and young people representing countries for which the Queen is Head of State. The congregation answered “We will” to questions that included “Inspired by all that unites and strengthens us will you work for peace and justice throughout our world?” and “Rejoicing in the beauty of this earth will you protect and care for our environment?”
The last hymn, “Glorious things of thee are spoken” (Abbot’s Leigh) was followed by a blessing from Bishop Mullally, and the National Anthem, before the acting organist, William Fox, played Walton’s March for “A History of the English-Speaking Peoples”, and the Marines’ Band played “Jupiter” from Holst’s The Planets. The order of service omitted to mention, as Holst did, that Jupiter was the “Bringer of Jollity”, but Mr Dimbleby noted that it had been a very jolly service. The bell-ringers at the cathedral would be busy with their changes all afternoon.
Click here to see the full order of service