By Steve Rice

Reminders of the British Monarchy are all around me. I was born and raised in South Carolina and live in North Carolina. The Carolinas are former colonies founded by and named after Charles II and given to aristocrats who were loyal to his father, Charles I. I was ordained in Georgia, named for George II. When I travel, I fly from Charlotte, named for the wife of King George III (the Queen City). The city and airport are in Mecklenburg County, named for Charlotte’s German duchy. For these and other reasons, it is necessary to disclose that I am an unrepentant Anglophile. I am insufferable when I say whilst, encouraging people to mind the gap when there is none, and asking if they’ve seen the latest season of Line of Duty. The list could go on.

I love all things British, but that is not why I watched (and prayed during) the coronation of King Charles III.

Before the coronation, Episcopal News Service published a tweet asking if any U.S.-based Episcopal Churches were hosting a coronation watch party. The few responses were mostly negative, ranging from “Why would we do that?” to “We left that all behind in 1776.” My conversations with family and some parishioners revealed similar reactions. I want to make the case that the coronation of King Charles III does matter, and not only for citizens of the United Kingdom, but for all in the Anglican Communion.


There are all kinds of leaders and rulers throughout the world. Some of them are there legitimately and they govern with the consent of the people. Others rule by force or threats of terror. Among the experiments in holding human societies together, monarchy is perhaps the oldest and therefore has the most baggage. Americans aren’t afraid of centralized power, as our president has far more powers than any constitutional monarch, but we have rejected power that is unelected and hereditary. The names of kings and queens may be found in our maps, but they are not to be found in our form of government. King Charles III was not only crowned on May 6, but he was anointed. This anointing separates the nature of his reign from every other monarch. Indeed, he is the only anointed Christian monarch in the world.

The coronation of Charles was a public covenant between God and king, and from that covenant the king is bound to his people. This kind of covenant, presented on a spectrum of fidelity, fills Holy Scripture. Kingship in the Bible, as Ian Bradley wrote, “is presented as both the popularly requested and the divinely appointed answer to the anarchy and disorder prevailing under the judges … after their arrival in the promised Land of Canaan.”[i] We see images of monarchy from Genesis (the mythical priest-king Melchizedek) to Revelation (24 elders seated on thrones and wearing golden crowns) with over 700 monarchial references in between. The anointing of King Charles III, with the dramatic assembly of a privacy screen and the music of Handel, comes straight from 1 Kings 1.39: “And Zadok the priest took a horn of oil out of the tabernacle, and anointed Solomon. And they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, ‘God save king Solomon.’” Monarchy is undeniably biblical. The problem is that many monarchs throughout the ages have lived and ruled in ways that were undeniably not biblical. It is understandable why some view the monarchy through the lens of cynicism and not covenant.

I am not suggesting that Americans should desire a monarch in Washington (although our political environment makes that a tempting thought). I am suggesting that as Christians, we cannot dismiss the coronation as simply political theater. Since this is the first time in 70 years that we have witnessed a coronation, we have now seen with our own eyes what has been in the church’s theology for a very, very long time. This coronation, and I do not think there is any other way to say this, was a kind of ordination.

All the parts of an ordination were there: a bishop, oath, recognition of the people, Veni Creator Spiritus, anointing, vesting in a stole, and the presentation of a Bible. I was stunned when the oblations were presented to the newly anointed king and he touched them, not unlike a priest touching the vessels during the prayer of consecration. Charles was king the moment his mother died, but he was set apart at the coronation. It was very clear that there is a sacral element to this, almost like an eighth sacrament. But if this is a unique kind of ordination, the question is: ordained for what?

At its best, as seen in Holy Scripture and in practice today, an anointed Christian monarch serves as a living reminder that God is our true sovereign, and it is only through his mercy and law that we find true justice and peace. At its best, as seen in Holy Scripture and in practice today, an anointed Christian monarch points to the King of kings. Almost everyone knows the quote from Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The next line, however, cuts deeper: “Great men are almost always bad men.” To hold power and influence with a dedication to service and justice requires the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, there is a prayer in the marriage rite that asks God to grant that all the married couples who witnessed the vows exchanged “may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed.” That is why elements of this coronation are completely relevant for us. In the dramatic and ancient ritual of a covenant being made, we find our Christian lives strengthened and our loyalties to Christ and his Church confirmed.

In one of my favorite parts, after the king took the oath, he was presented a Bible by the moderator of the Church of Scotland. The moderator said,

To keep you ever mindful of the law and the Gospel of God, as the Rule for the whole life and government of Christian Princes, receive this Book,
the most valuable thing that this world affords.
Here is Wisdom;
This is the royal Law;
These are the lively Oracles of God.

Those words are just as true for us as they are for King Charles. The themes of serving and not being served, of mercy and justice, and faith in Jesus Christ are for us all, and not just the king. In seeing his vows and his commitment, we reflect and examine our own vows and our own commitment.

St. Peter says that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people (1 Pet. 2:9). We are a royal priesthood, not by birth by baptism. Not by birth, but through the blood of Christ. Not by force, but through faith. Not by a coup, but through the cross. And as a royal priesthood, we offer to God ourselves, our souls, and our bodies.

King Charles is not the ruler of America, but in his coronation, he reminds us of he who is. His vow of service makes me, in the most spiritual way possible, proud to be a Christian and it makes me want to be more faithful. It makes me, in the most spiritual way possible, proud to be an Anglican and it makes me want to be more active.

God save everyone who points us to the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. God save everyone who moves us to renew our faith.

And that is why, as a proud American, I can say and will continue to say, God save the king!

[i] Ian Bradley, God Save the Queen: The Spiritual Heart of the Monarchy (London: Continuum, 2012), 2.

About The Author

Fr. Steve Rice is the rector of St Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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One Response

  1. W James

    Thank you for a wonderful article. As an Episcopalian, I hold dearly our Anglican liturgical tradition and have had the pleasure of serving as a lay chaplain to an Episcopal bishop. None of our local Episcopal churches held any official coronation gathering and nearly all the Episcopalians I spoke with had no or very little interest in the coronation. We held a small watch party–essentially my family–arising at 3:30 a.m. Pacific time and watching until the entire proceedings finished at Buckingham Palace. I especially followed carefully the actual service, which of course was based on the 1662 BCP, including the rather jolting experience of having the fraction done during the Eucharistic Prayer. As you indicate, the Biblical coronation tradition going back three millenia to Solomon gives special meaning to King Charles’s coronation, and the anointing was nothing less than an awe-filled mystery. And credit to the Brits: the entire ceremony was magnificent and as nearly flawless as humanly possible. I’m glad to know there are a few other Americans who can appreciate the beauty of such a solemn religious ritual.


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