Last Tuesday, many of us were looking at pictures of Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, receiving our new Prime Minister. Amid a time of yet more political upheaval and economic uncertainty, the Queen was there – that figure of constancy and unity.
Then, just 48 hours later, everything changed, and this Tuesday we find ourselves mourning the death of a beloved Queen. My statement and Bishop Robert’s statement have been widely shared.
Like so many of you, Bishop Robert and I found our diaries turned upside down as the plans for Operation London Bridge became reality. By 8pm on Thursday evening, we were in the Cathedral alongside Canon Andrew, our Interim Dean, and the amazing Cathedral staff had opened the doors and candles were ready to be lit.
Since then there have been outline plans for each day, ranging from services in the Cathedral and Tewkesbury Abbey, to participation in local Proclamations of Charles as King. I also had the privilege of being in the House of Lords last Saturday for tributes to Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, plus the swearing of oaths of allegiance to King Charles. Then, on Monday morning, I returned to London to join MPs, Peers and Lords Spiritual in Westminster Hall to welcome our new King.
For many people it has been a time of mingled emotions, tears and laughter, as we swing back and forth between ‘The Queen is dead’ and ‘Long live the King’. Perhaps that word ‘Quing’, which is inevitably being heard in the singing of the National Anthem, could become the word to capture a national oscillation between sadness and joy.
Yet, in the midst of the plans, ceremony and media reporting, this national and royal story is also connecting with many people’s personal stories. So many tender spots, raw wounds and old scars have been touched or reopened as the national story resonates with personal experiences of pain, loss and shock, and a whole range of happenings and memories.
I believe some of that is being lived out in the laying of flowers and the writing in condolence books and the lighting of candles, and it is important. And so, too, are those places of gathered celebration for significant life events. For those who have celebrations on the horizon, it can feel as if the national mourning should perhaps take precedence over the celebration, yet this week we have also gathered to rejoice at the proclamation of a new monarch.
I believe our late Queen and our new King would want people’s personal sadnesses and struggles, as well as people’s celebrations, to be embraced by the shared national story and not to be overshadowed or set aside.
In all of this, I am glad and proud of the fact that the Church of England in so many ways has been there not only for disciples of Christ but also for people of no faith or of a faith other than Christian. Up and down the country, Christians have been creating spaces which can hold before God the national story and people’s personal stories – places of community, prayer and hope, and of light stronger than the darkness. Thank you for all you are being and doing in your local contexts in this diocese, it is deeply appreciated.
Over the last few days, a number of people have remarked not only on the love and service of our late Queen being rooted in her deep faith in Jesus Christ, but also on the Church of England’s place in our national life and constitution. This is one of those moments to renew our confidence in being members of the Body of Christ in the public square of our local communities as we share our lives and faith with people of all ages and stories.
That ‘being with’ people is something Bishop Robert and I are endeavouring to live alongside you this week. We will each be in a number of different places across the diocese, joining in with just a little of what you are offering in church buildings, schools and the wider community as we give thanks for Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth and mourn her death. Together, may we bear witness to the unchanging love and life of Jesus Christ, just as our Queen did so faithfully and constantly over so many years.
This comes, as ever, with heartfelt thanks and continued prayers.