By David Goodhew
Should we beatify Queen Elizabeth II? The idea is utterly mad.
For one thing, the Queen would be appalled by such a conceit. For another, beatification is not how Anglicans do things. Moreover, Americans have an understandably ambivalent relationship with the British monarchy, given its behavior in the 18th century.
So, I raise the suggestion with my tongue firmly in my cheek.
But Christians learn by imitation. And there is much in the life of Queen Elizabeth worthy of imitation. As the Queen approaches the 70th anniversary of her ascent to the British throne, this is a good moment to remember how central Christian faith is to her life and how Anglicans, in particular, can draw strength from her example.
The Queen’s Faith
The Queen’s most widely noticed utterance is her annual Christmas message. Carefully scripted, it offers benign and uncontroversial observations. But they consistently include reference to the Queen’s own faith, her allegiance to Christ, and her belief in the power of prayer.
Five years ago, aged 91, she said this:
In my first Christmas broadcast in 1952 I asked the people … to pray for me as I prepared to dedicate myself to their service at my Coronation. I have been and remain very grateful for [those] prayers and to God for his steadfast love. I have indeed seen his faithfulness.
And further back, in 2002, when a mere 76 years old, she said of her faith,
I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try to do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God. I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.
British culture is highly secularized. It long ago reached the point where senior public figures are highly wary of articulating faith. Elizabeth II stands out as someone unbowed by such self-censorship.
And this faith is expressed with grace. Navigating a hugely complex world, the Queen has consistently been respectful of different Christian denominations and of other faith communities, whilst remaining clear about her own allegiance to Christ.
The Queen’s Anglicanism
Elizabeth II is a lifelong Anglican. She holds to the simple faith passed on to her by her parents who expressed a similarly unshowy piety. This was a faith refined in the crucible of World War II, during which the Queen came of age. It is expressed in regular worship, mostly according to Anglican rites.
A routine part of each Lambeth Conference is a garden party for the delegates hosted by the Queen. Though not as officially central to Anglicanism as she is to the Church of England, Elizabeth II is one of the greatest living Anglicans. As “supreme governor” of the Church of England she is plumbed into the heart of the Church from which Anglicanism sprang. By being enormously well-travelled and assiduous in worship she may well hold the record for having worshiped in more dioceses of the Communion than any other person. By her longevity, the Queen carries a faith memory which is unique. From William Temple to Michael Curry, she has known the leading Anglicans of the last 100 years. Though not named as an “instrument of communion,” Elizabeth II functions as such — crucial “glue” that helps sustain the Communion’s common life.
The Queen’s Life
As with all highly famous individuals, the full story of Elizabeth II’s life cannot yet be told. But much can be said.
Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne are an utterly unique achievement. The first prime minister whom she advised was Winston Churchill. She has worked with all American presidents from Truman to Biden. Having outlasted so many prime ministers and presidents, most could learn from her statecraft.
Her unofficial motto is reputedly “Never explain, never complain.” The Queen was deeply formed by wartime austerity and tragedy, she embodies a quiet hopefulness alongside a realistic appreciation of the unpredictability of life and the capacity of human beings to go wrong.
Other members of the royal family create more headlines. The Queen’s role as wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother looks unspectacular. But in a world of disposable relationships, it has a solidity that commands deep respect.
And the Queen has a love of life that is highly attractive. From horseracing to dogs to her love of the Scottish hills, she has shown an earthed ordinariness. Politicians frequently (and vainly) try to appear “one of the people.” The Queen, despite her hugely peculiar calling, achieves this because there is a deep ordinariness about her.
A Servant Queen
At the funeral of her late husband, the Queen sat alone, due to COVID protocols. She offered an example to her people and her church of how to live Christianly in the strangest of circumstances; how to grieve quietly and deeply; how to hold onto resurrection hope. Over the past 70 years, Elizabeth II has shown greater constancy and, often, greater spiritual depth than not a few prelates.
Whether one leans towards constitutional monarchy or a republic as one’s preferred system of government, Queen Elizabeth II is one of the greatest living Anglicans.
God save the Queen.