What a lot has happened in the last few weeks!
Thursday 26 May was Ascension Day, which we celebrated with two services: a communion service in the morning in St John’s, Itchen Abbas, and a service of Evening Prayer in St Swithun’s, Martyr Worthy.
Two days later there was the Deanery Pilgrimage, as people from all the benefices within the Alresford Deanery walked through the Itchen Valley, stopping for lunch in Martyr Worthy, on-bound for Winchester Cathedral. More details of this can be read here.
The next day, after our Sunday morning parish Communion in St Mary’s, Easton, we were treated to an amazing organ recital by the talented young musician, Tom Featherstonehaugh (if you want to hear this recital—and see how fast an organist’s feet can move when playing the pedals!—then the recording is well worth watching in previous post).
Then, on Thursday 2 June, the Jubilee bank holiday began, opening with a Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving in St Mary’s, Easton. Those who came sensed that this was a really good way to mark this milestone in our national life—this ‘once in a millennium’ event. Many thanks to those who helped make the occasion so memorable—including bell-ringers, our visiting organist and trumpeter, as well as Chris Ellis working his magic on the church’s brilliant sound-system to bring us two stirring anthems from St Martin’s in the Fields. To enjoy the Zoom recording, click here.
I am especially grateful to John Lang for his words in the Second Address that detailed so many of the Queen’s ‘crowning achievements’ which, in the perspective of some of those listening to his words, seemed to be the evident outworking of the Queen’s personal faith in God’s power and Christ ‘s truth about which I had spoken in the First Address.
- You will find the text of both Addresses (together with the Order of Service) at the end of this post below.
- We also have a few remaining copies of a colour booklet, entitled ‘Our Faithful Queen: 70 years of faith and service’, available from the church office.
And then there were three days of Jubilee parties—in each of our four villages. We are so grateful to all those who hosted and organised these events for the whole community, enabling people to meet new neighbours and make new friends. It was so special to be able to be together and relax in each other’s company—not least after these two years of comparative isolation and anxiety.
And then, last but not least, there was Pentecost Sunday, which was celebrated in two very differently-styled services in St John’s, Itchen Abbas: a quiet reflective Communion service and an All Age Worship service in which the entire congregation was effectively transported to the streets of Jerusalem and found themselves involved in the drama of the Spirit’s powerful work in Jesus’ followers (as described in Acts 2).
Here is the recording of the Communion sermon in which Jesus explains to his followers how—by the Holy Spirit—he will come to reside in them, reveal himself to them and release through them his love and peace.
So a big ‘thank you’ to all of you in our church family who have worked so hard to make these various celebrations go so well. And, as we continue to pray for our Queen, may we all know the blessing and presence of God’s Holy Spirit as we each seek to walk, like her, with Christ into the future.
The Queen’s Service to God – Revd Peter Walker
69 years ago today, on 2 June 1953, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was crowned. And, on that day, as in our own service today, the 8,251 guests gathered in Westminster Abbey would have sung these words: “God save the Queen, long live our noble Queen”. 69 years later, one can surely say that those words, which are really a prayer, have indeed been fulfilled: the prayers of many have been answered. And we are witnessing in this Platinum Jubilee weekend a truly remarkable event as we celebrate her reign of 70 years—the longest serving monarch in our long history.
Truly this is a “once in a lifetime event”, probably a “once in a millennium event”. So we should indeed be celebrating! That’s why it is so good that all through the Itchen Valley—in Itchen Abbas, in Avington, in Martyr Worthy and here in Easton—there are so many community events being held. Given that these also come at the end of our 2-year’s battling with a pandemic, there is a cause for double celebration as we can at last come together. Let’s hope these events enable us all to reconnect with one another and regain a sense of how precious it is to be living together in community in this beautiful Valley.
Yet it’s good too to be starting this round of celebrations here in church, giving us an opportunity—as it were—to welcome God into our celebrations.
For that Coronation service, as we know, was a deeply Christian ceremony. The official titles she was given on that day make this clear:
“Elizabeth the Second, by the grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of her other realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.”
It’s clear, too, from the words from the Coronation service quoted at the end of today’s Order of Service about the Bible and the maintenance of the gospel.
Yet the person being crowned was also herself going through it with a real sense of prayer and trust in Christ. This is helpfully brought to light in this book (‘Our Faithful Queen: 70 years of Faith & service’), a copy of which is being given out after the service to each household gathered here today (and we can order some more, if necessary). This book notes how a few months before the Coronation, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, had written and then printed a small book (called A Little Book of Private Devotions), designed to help the young Queen prepare herself for the ceremony.
You can read for yourself later some of the Bible verses that were used in that book (for example the words of Psalm 23 or the words of Isaiah: ‘in quietness and trust shall be your strength’) as well as some of the prayers that the Queen was encouraged to pray, for example:
“O Christ our God, fill my heart always with the joy of faithful service”
Or this one:
“Lord Jesus Christ, you are the way, the truth and the life: keep me from wandering from your ways. Help me to trust you, the truth, and to be filled with your life. May your Holy Spirit teach me to live the right way, to be truthful, and to be filled with your life, living to please you.”
But one caught my eye in particular:
Reflecting on that private moment when she would be anointed with oil and consecrated as God’s ‘anointed servant’, she was encouraged to pray:
“in answer to his call and consecration, I dare to breathe the Virgin Mary’s words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to this word”.
Those words of Mary are recorded in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel, a few verses before the song (now known as the Magnificat and which Lavinia read to us just now) which Mary sung as she gave thanks for the special calling she had received from God to be the mother of Jesus. It would be a demanding role and one which, she was later told, would ‘break her own heart in two’, but she said to God, “be it unto me according to this word”. In other words, “yes!”. “Yes, God, I am your servant and I’m here to do whatever you ask of me”.
And, effectively, that is what our Queen also prayed. “And the rest”, as they say, “is history”: 70 years of service—service, so she would say, to the Lord.
For her 90th birthday, there was a colour booklet produced called, appropriately, ‘The Servant Queen and the King she serves’. Our next hymn, called ‘the Servant King’, will highlight the ways in which her Lord, Jesus Christ, despite being the ruler of the world, gave up everything in love for the sake of us—going to a shameful death on a cross to win for us God’s gracious forgiveness. ‘The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as ransom for man’ (Mark 10:45). And this is the Servant King whom our Queen herself has served. And for this service to God we hold this morning service of praise to give thanks to God for all that he has done through her.
Let me highlight, briefly, three aspects of her service to God which are noteworthy:
1) Her faithfulness in service
There has been such faithfulness to the task in hand, fulfilling her many duties (for example, reading Government papers every day except Christmas Day and Easter Day; or her many public appearances) with personal discipline and public dignity.
2) Her fortitude in suffering
Although living in a palace she has not been spared difficult times: separated form her parents for a long time during the War whilst her parents continued to live in London during the Blitz; and, more recently, coping with some difficult personal challenges—not least around the time of Princess Diana’s death and in her earlier ‘horrible year’ of 1992 (her ‘annus horribilis’) in which the marriages of 3 of her 4 children broke down and Windsor castle was ravaged by fire. In all of this—as witnessed perhaps in her address to the nation in the early months of the pandemic and epitomised in her sitting isolated on her own at her husband’s funeral—she has exhibited some real fortitude in suffering.
3) Her firmness and graciousness in her speaking
Although not allowed to express her own personal opinion on controversial topics (though, one wonders, if some Prime Ministers have privately been made aware of her Majesty’s concerns?!), in her public speaking she has developed a style of address which, in the words of one commentator, has “elevated the tone of our public conversations”.
And in her public addresses—especially in her Christmas broadcasts but also when addressing the General Synod of the Church of England—she has made quite clear her own personal commitment to Jesus Christ.
I was speaking yesterday with Bp Timothy Dudley Smith, the person who composed the words for the hymn we have just sung (‘Tell out my soul’) and the one we shall sing at the end (‘Lord for the years’). Bp Timothy was born in the same year as the Queen and I’ve seen a great photo of the two of them meeting each other when they both attended the important 100th anniversary of the Scripture Union (an organisation that has done excellent work promoting the reading of the Bible; and for which Bp Timothy wrote our final hymn). I asked Bp Timothy for his comment on the Queen’s Christian commitment and he chose simply to read out to me the words she used in her Christmas Message back in 2000:
“For me, the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God, provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times for Christ’s words and example.”
Some of those words are also printed at the front of our Order of Service. And we could have included many other quotations from her Christmas messages down the years, in which, whilst respectful of many other viewpoints held by people in modern Britain, she made clear her own faith in Christ and her own conviction as to his truth.
So, in concluding this first address, focusing on our Queen’s ‘life of service to God’, it is appropriate to give our praise (as the Queen herself would surely wish it) not to her but to Him—to the God who has reserved her for these 70 years; to him who called her at young age, instilling in her a faith and trust in him; and to the one who has strengthened her in his service for the sake of us her people.
The word ‘Jubilee’ comes from the Latin, itself a translation of a Hebrew word for the Ram’s Horn Trumpet which was used to announce the year of jubilee in Old Testament times. And it was the very first word in our Psalm this morning (Psalm 100 is known as the ‘Jubilate’), where it is translated ‘shout for joy’.
Well, we have a trumpet today but it’s not made from a Ram’s Horn (!) and we’re not going to do any actual shouting; yet, in a moment, let’s be upstanding and repeat the refrain we used in the Psalm (‘give thanks to him and praise his name’), followed by a resounding ‘God Bless the Queen’.
Tribute to HM the Queen on her Platinum Jubilee – John Lang
69 years ago today, on 2nd June 1953, the 27 year-old Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen at Westminster Abbey.
Today we celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of the day she ascended the throne on the death of her father, King George VI. No other British Monarch has reigned for 70 years and it is the day when we can pay a tribute, and thank her, for her long and dedicated service to the nation and Commonwealth.
Born in 1926 she had no expectation of ever becoming Queen, and it wasn’t until her uncle, Edward VIII, voluntarily abdicated the throne in 1936, that she suddenly became heir to the throne.
After a happy childhood, and service in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during the war, she used her 21st birthday in 1947 to indicate how she intended to conduct the rest of her life. In a speech broadcast to the Commonwealth from Cape Town, she declared that no matter whether her life was to be long or short, it would be devoted to the service of the great imperial family. She became Queen 5 years later.
The 1953 Coronation was held on one of the coldest June days ever and the rain poured down on the crowds who had assembled in London to watch this extraordinary spectacle. It was the first major outside event ever to be televised and, because of it, the sales of TV sets soared.
For many people, including myself, it was the very first time any of us had seen this new form of medium. Despite the picture being in black and white, and the screen measuring a mere 9 inches, it had us all enthralled.
The Coronation was, and still is, an extraordinary moment to look back on. It was a celebration, it gave hope after the dark days of the Second World War, and an expectation of better things to come after several years of shortages and rationing.
On that momentous day we heard some heart stopping music, witnessed a matchless visual spectacle, and marvelled at the stunning pageantry punctuated by traditional symbolism, emblems and rituals.
Most of the rites observed during the service stemmed from coronations past but each had a relevance to the new Queen’s reign of dedication and commitment.
Take the two Armill bracelets which the Queen wore on both wrists. They had been presented by several members of the Commonwealth. especially for the occasion and represented sincerity and wisdom.
The Sovereign’s Orb: a hollow gold sphere, surmounted by a cross, representing the rule of Jesus over the world and a reminder that her power is derived from God.
The Royal ring placed on the fourth finger of her right hand; representing her “marriage” to the nation.
And the Sovereign’s Sceptre surmounted by a dove. Traditionally it has been known as ‘the Rod of Equity and Mercy” and is associated with the monarch’s pastoral care of the people.
There were many others but the sentiments expressed with them all were unmistakeable. Service. Duty. Stability. Fairness. Mercy. And care for her people no matter who they were.
So here we are, 70 years further on. Her Majesty is now 96 and still among us, still smiling, and still taking a pleasure from everyday events.
She is, arguably, the best known, most photographed, and most easily recognised person in the world today and I think it probable that every one of us here will have some special memory of her. Some may have met her personally or been honoured by her. Others will have attended an event at which she was present and there can be few who have not seen her on television or read about her in the press.
She can look back on her memories of all 14 Prime Ministers, her links with 54 Commonwealth Countries, the Regiments of which she is Colonel-in Chief, meeting Presidents, Governors, numerous High Commissioners, Ambassadors from other countries, her Lord Lieutenants, leading politicians, captains of industry, artists, musicians, authors, successful sportsmen and women, and the stars of stage, screen and television.
She would treat them all with great courtesy and friendliness. I know she would never admit to it but it is possible she may remember some as being very special indeed. I will hazard a guess, but I suspect Nelson Mandela might have been one such individual. If so, it was entirely mutual. He is the only person outside her close family who ever called her Elizabeth to her face.
Over the years she has paid numerous visits to other nations and even charmed the people of France with her fluent French. She has spent time with units of Her Armed Forces, the charities of which she is Patron, schools and universities and, with one or two exceptions, has attended the annual Maundy Thursday service at which she distributes the Maundy money.
She has opened countless large infrastructures and buildings such as the Sydney Opera house in 1975 and the Elizabeth Line in London only 2 weeks ago. Throughout her reign she has launched, or named, some memorable ships such as the Cunard Liner QE2, and the Aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth with those timeless words. “May God bless her and all who sail in her.”
Her Patronage of many hundreds of charities has been regarded as very special to those concerned. She has always tried to attend the big state and national occasions such as the Opening of Parliament, Trooping the Colour, and State Visits, as well as the Remembrance Day services in November each year. And of course, the investitures which mean so much to both her and those being honoured.
And she will no doubt reflect on the many less obvious parts of her formal duties: giving the Royal assent to laws passed by her government of the day, and studying the content of her daily red boxes. She chaired the Privy Council meetings at which the Right Honourables have to remain standing throughout. Perhaps she still thinks of the occasion when one member’s mobile phone started to ring half-way through one such meeting. The poor man concerned was extremely embarrassed and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. Not so the Queen who intervened and said “Don’t you think you should answer it. It might be someone important”.
But above all, it is her visits to countries, cities, towns, and villages throughout the world that brought her in touch with her subjects. She draws strength from meeting ordinary people doing extraordinary things: volunteers, carers, community organisers and good neighbours; unsung heroes whose quiet dedication makes them special. And never for one second in the many tens of thousands of visits made did she give the slightest hint of being bored, disinterested or tired. She is always impeccably dressed, never give offence and never seems to wilt. How on earth does she do it?
Her speeches might not match the oratory of Sir Winston Churchill or Barack Obama, but she has an uncanny way of conveying a view whilst remaining totally impartial. Words such as “We will meet again,” and her hopes “That people will think very carefully about the future” in a speech ahead of the Scottish independence referendum in 2018. Her Christmas Broadcasts to the nation and Commonwealth at 3pm on Christmas day itself have become a central feature of many families’ lunchtime arrangements.
In reading again many of the press report of her visits at home and the Commonwealth I have been struck by the number of times people refer to her as “my Queen” or “our Queen” rather than “the” Queen. And I bet she derived huge pleasure in discovering the people of Papua New Guinea call her “Missis Kwin,” and “Mama belong big family.”
She shares happiness and laughter with us as well as some of the sadder more emotional moments. Her very evident distress when visiting the Welsh mining village of Aberfan in October 1966 following a devastating avalanche of slurry that killed 144 people, including 116 children. The hint of a tear was detected when she bade farewell to the Royal Yacht Britannia in 1997. And that black clad figure sitting alone in the choir stalls of St George’s Chapel, Windsor, on the occasion of the funeral of her beloved husband, Prince Philip last year.
And yet, when she smiles, as she did from her golf buggy at the Chelsea Chelsea Flower Show only a few days ago, it is infectious.
So how can I possibly sum up a tribute to this remarkable woman who has been our head of state for most, if not all, our lives. I think we have been incredibly blessed. Today is quite possibly the only time a Platinum Jubilee will be celebrated in this country for many hundreds of years to come. We are here to celebrate this unique event. And pay tribute to a wonderful Queen. Our Queen. A mother. A Grand Mother and a Great Grand Mother who has fulfilled to perfection, the declaration she made 75 years ago in Cape Town. It remains an inspiration and example to us all.
So in conclusion, can I on behalf of you all wish her Majesty a very Happy Platinum Jubilee and thank her from the bottom of our hearts for the example she sets and her devoted service to us all over so many years.
Long may she reign over us. God bless the Queen.