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Archbishop Welby: My last meeting with the Queen — a little gossip and some wise words

09 September 2022

Archbishop of Canterbury recalls his last meeting with the Queen in June


The Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury at Windsor Castle, in June, when he presented her with the Canterbury Cross, in recognition of her “unstinting support” of the Church of England throughout her reign

The Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury at Windsor Castle, in June, when he presented her with the Canterbury Cross, in recognition of her “unstint...

THE new King will be committed, as the late Queen was, to the Established Church creating an environment that is hospitable to people of other faiths and no faiths, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. And he recalled his last meeting with the Queen in June.

Before Archbishop Welby was interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday morning, a clip was played from a speech that the late Queen gave in Lambeth Palace in 2012 (News, 17 February 2012).

She said: “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.”

Archbishop Welby said on Today that what the Queen had said in 2012 was “felt very deeply indeed by the new King. . . I’m sure that the Prince of Wales at the time agreed with what she said, and His Majesty will carry that on.”

The Archbishop continued: “In one sense, what the Queen was saying at the time in 2012, was, ‘It’s not about us Anglicans’ — we’re there for others, as she said, to be an umbrella for faith. And that is very much the attitude of His Majesty the King. He will continue to encourage this sense of being there for everyone, of looking outwards, of welcoming all, and doing so without condition.”

The late Queen had stood for public service over private interest, Archbishop Welby went on to say. “But it was also a sense that the nation, and indeed the world and the Commonwealth, will hold together when there is that standing against private interest, where the common good is what matters. And she lived that out herself.

“His Majesty has lived it out in his life, and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh lived it out in his. I think it’s a constant in the way monarchy acts, because that is what they’re called to, and that is what they recognise. And in both His Majesty’s and Her late Majesty’s lives, that comes out of their Christian faith.”

Asked what support the Church could provide to members of the public who were grieving, the Archbishop said: “I think the Church provides two really important things. The first is to say it is right and proper to feel vulnerable, to feel bereaved, saddened, uncertain.

“But the second is the Church says there is something so much bigger, and that it is this image of God, who cares for us, who loves us, even when we don’t know anything about that. And so the Church gives a place, and literally a physical space, in our extraordinary parish churches and cathedrals around the land, in which people can find that they can express their sorrow, and find hope and abundant life.”

Despite the sense of fear and uncertainty generated by the Queen’s death, Archbishop Welby also spoke of a “sense of solidity”.

“Yes, Her late Majesty has died. But there wasn’t a single second when we didn’t have a monarch, a head of state. There wasn’t a moment when the person who is head of state, regardless of who they are as an individual, did not carry on that sense of solidity and of permanence, and that that gives us strength as well.”

The Archbishop said that he had last seen the late Queen in June. “I came away thinking, ‘There is someone who has no fear of death, has hope in the future, knows the rock on which she stands.’”

He said that their final conversation had included “a little bit of gossip” and “some very wise words”.

“You felt that history was in front of you, but it was history with those piercingly blue eyes twinkling, that extraordinary smile, and the relishing of a quick, dry comment.”


Earlier on the Today programme on Friday morning, the Archbishop delivered Thought for the Day. This is a transcript of what he said: 

What a life, what an extraordinary life. And yet the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is a shock to our sense of permanence, and because of her long and steadfast reign, which helped us make sense of who we are as a nation.

It was a reign that was not only for the United Kingdom, it was a reign that was for the whole world. Around the world, in the work I do, I hear so many people who spoke of her not as anything other than “the Queen”. She showed us permanence, she gave us a sense that life wouldn’t change. And so, with her death, we feel that permanence is rocked. And for many of us, it is almost impossible to imagine the world without her.

For all those who yesterday found themselves bereaved in their own families, or from their own friends — because many other people died yesterday — they will know especially that sense of great loss, of uncertainty, the loss of identity, the fading of what seemed permanent. But that is the lie of death. For Her late Majesty showed us that, when we build our lives on God’s faithfulness, we are on the solid ground of eternity that cannot be shaken.

In Coventry Cathedral hangs a tapestry called Christ in Glory. It is an image of Christ after his death and resurrection and ascension, but with the wounds of the cross. It is 80-foot high, and between his feet is an almost life-sized human figure. That figure can’t see Jesus. That figure is looking out from between the feet, can only see the mark of the nails in the feet. They are vulnerable, exposed, unprotected, but they are sheltered by the Christ they cannot see.

“In time of grief, fear, or vulnerability, we cling to the wounded feet of Christ; it is offered to all of us. We look out into the world, and can find that our lives can be abundant as Her late Majesty’s was; that our lives can find hope, even in the face of death.

We remember today especially the Royal Family and their grief. We pray for the reign of His Majesty King Charles III. He will feel especially the weight of this change. In the Christian story of life, death, and resurrection, there is space for our grief and uncertainty. We see the wounds of Christ who died with us. But, with God, the final words are abundant life and fulfilled hope. And, in Her Majesty’s life, we saw that, and can be inspired.

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