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General Synod digest: Queen is England’s greatest evangelist, says Archbishop

15 July 2022
Sam Atkins/Church Times

The Archbishop of Canterbury

The Archbishop of Canterbury

Loyal address

IN ONE of its final acts before prorogation on Tuesday morning, the General Synod carried the motion that a Loyal Address be sent to the Queen.

Introducing the debate, the Archbishop of Canterbury recalled the Queen’s last appearance in the Synod, in 2015 (News, 27 November 2015), describing her “exquisite comic timing”. Her speech had been met with cries of “Long live the Queen,” but in the corridor afterwards, Archbishop Welby said, the Queen had asked him: “I’ve lived long enough, don’t you think?”

He told the Synod: “In her Majesty we have found someone who carries lightly her own importance — a genuine humility is there — while knowing fully what her role is in Church and State.” Her Christian faith was both beyond question and inspirational, he said. It was also a reminder that the Church of England was the Church for England. “She has been rightly described as England’s greatest evangelist,” he said, and praised her Christmas broadcasts as “Christ-centred”.

In the British constitution, “the monarch gives her allegiance to God before we then give our allegiance to her,” he said. “We are a nation under God, but that has been interpreted generously and widely by the Queen.” Archbishop Welby spoke of the Queen’s devotion to duty, as exemplified by her sitting alone during the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh because of Covid restrictions (News, 23 April 2021).

“She is not just our ruler, but perhaps the pre-eminent moral leader in the world,” as a result of her Christ-centred character, Archbishop Welby concluded. He then moved that the Synod send the Queen a Loyal Address.

Alison Coulter (Winchester), vice-chair of the House of Laity, spoke of her admiration for the Queen. It was particularly encouraging to her that the Supreme Governor of the Church of England was a laywoman, she said. Even at the age of 96, the Queen had continued to work hard, with a special concern for those who suffer. “God has indeed answered our prayers to save our gracious Queen and to live long our noble Queen. I give thanks for her.”

The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller (London), hailed the monarchy as a system that did not rely on winning elections or sustaining popularity. The loyalty of the subject was to something higher than the individual, he said, which was comparable with the situation for the clergy. But it was a happy coincidence that, in the Queen, the Church had a Sovereign that it could serve, who was also deeply, humbly Christian.

Sam Atkins/Church TimesThe Revd Robert Thompson (London)

Benjamin John (St Albans) said that he had loved the Platinum Jubilee celebrations this year, despite not being a usually patriotic person. “Our Queen loves God and serves him above anything else.”

The Revd Timothy Edwards (Rochester) said that he could not have been the only cleric who devoted the entirety of his sermon after the Jubilee to quotations from “the nation’s greatest evangelist”. The Queen could lead the Church in pursuing a life that was simpler, humbler, and bolder, in its trust of God, he said.

Taking a different view, the Revd Robert Thompson (London) said that he spoke as a socialist, Irishman, and republican, and identified a confusion over loyalty to the person of the Queen, loyalty to the Crown, and loyalty to Christ. Monarchy was not intrinsic to Christian tradition, he said, and he urged the Synod to be faithful, first, to Christ’s reign — “the coming jubilee for all”. He also criticised the wealth of the Crown and the behaviour of some members of the royal family. Many in the chamber might not be republican, he concluded, but would wish that the Church’s leaders could be more critical of the monarchy.

Simon Eyre (Chichester) said that the recent thanksgiving service for the Duke of Edinburgh (News, 1 April) — and in particular how the Queen had walked in with Prince Andrew — spoke to him of forgiveness, grace, and restoration: three things that “we all need”.

Responding to the debate, Archbishop Welby thanked Mr Thompson for his different, and especially Irish, perspective. He recalled how the Queen had visited Ireland to mark the 100th anniversary of the last royal visit, in an act of reconciliation, wearing green and speaking Irish. “It was a gift of profundity, given members of her own family had lost their lives in the Troubles.” When Archbishop Welby had later met members of the Irish government and Sinn Fein, they had praised the Queen warmly, he said.

“Let us, with thanks to God, vote for this address,” he concluded, “not because we’re monarchists or republicans, but because in Her Majesty we see the grace of God poured out on this country.”

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