Queen Elizabeth II reached the age of 90 on 21 April.
To celebrate, 12–15 May will see a pageant at Windsor attended by The Queen and members of the Royal Household and there will be further commemorative events in June. She is now the longest-serving monarch in British history.
Her declaration of her faith in Christ has become increasingly prominent in her recent Christmas Day broadcasts, and I certainly know of one pastor who found himself bursting into tears before his TV set because he was so moved that our monarch was pointing the nation towards her Lord and Saviour.
Christian faith appears to have been part of her life from a young age. In a small celebratory book The Servant Queen and the King she Serves 1, recently compiled by Mark Greene and Catherine Butcher and produced by The Bible Society, Hope and the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, we are given a fascinating insight into the story behind King George VI’s crucial broadcast in December 1939.
War with Nazi Germany had been declared in September. Elizabeth’s father was to speak to the nation and the empire. ‘What do you say to a nation that still bears the scars of the First World War… ? What do you say when you know that what lies ahead is the loss of sons and husbands and brothers; devastation, privation, terrible suffering? … At the time Elizabeth was 13 years old and the family was still living in Buckingham Palace. She handed her father a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins that she thought might be helpful… It was the lines from that poem that stirred and strengthened the hearts of millions at that terrible time.’
'I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’"And he replied, "Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light, And safer than a known way." '
Grateful to God
Conscious of God and of the need for his blessing, The Queen has always requested and valued the prayers of her people.
Realising the great responsibilities to be placed upon her, this became very prominent as she contemplated her Coronation in 1953. In the foreword to the book by Greene and Butcher, The Queen herself writes the following: ‘In my first Christmas broadcast in 1952, I asked the people of the Commonwealth and Empire to pray for me as I prepared to dedicate myself to their service at my Coronation. I have been – and remain – very grateful to you for your prayers and to God for His steadfast love. I have indeed seen His faithfulness.’
The Queen has carried on the tradition of the Christmas broadcasts that stretches back to 1932. Two of her most frequent themes are those of forgiveness and love to our neighbours.
The broadcast for 2011 included these words: ‘Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general (important though they are) – but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.’
Chaplain to the Queen
During his early years as rector of All Souls Langham Place in London, the late John Stott was appointed a chaplain to The Queen. This position did bring a modicum of contact with the royal family, and in January 1983 he was a guest of The Queen at Sandringham. Timothy Dudley-Smith’s two-volume biography of Stott 2 explains that this entailed ‘preaching on the Sunday and staying over the weekend, having had the forethought to hire a dinner jacket from Moss Bros.’
While staying at Sandringham, he could not resist writing a letter to his secretary, Frances Whitehead, which gives a glimpse of The Queen as a practical hostess.
Sunday, 9th Jan. 83
My dear Frances,
I did not feel I could spend the week-end here and not avail myself of the Royal Notepaper, provided abundantly in my bedroom!
I had the fantastic privilege last night of being a guest at a Royal Barbeque in a large beach hut which belongs to The Queen, about half an hour’s drive away. On arrival I found the Duke of Edinburgh cooking at one end of the porch, and Princess Anne at the other. It was Prince Andrew’s last night before rejoining his unit; hence the celebration. Hunks of barbecued beef, half-ducks, sausages and baked potatoes were served. I found myself between the Queen Mother and Lady Abel Smith, the lady-in-waiting. The informality was amazing, and I shall always treasure a memory of The Queen with a Royal Squeegee, mopping up something which had spilled!’
The policeman delivers
The biography goes on to record what happened a few days later: ‘As on other occasions, The Queen promptly sent a personal gift from her Sandringham estate by way of thanks to the preacher.
‘Toby Howarth, who was to join John Stott as a study assistant, vividly recalls staring out of the window of John Stott’s home: “I noticed a police motorcycle turn into the mews. Sure enough he stopped outside the flat and the doorbell rang. Wondering what Uncle John had been up to, I opened the door with some trepidation.
“The policeman simply opened one of his panniers, lifted out a brace of pheasant, feathers and all, and said: ‘For the Revd Dr Stott with the compliments of Her Majesty The Queen.’”.’
Stott was made a CBE in the New Year’s Honours List of 2005.
1. The Servant Queen and the King she Serves: a tribute for Her Majesty’s 90th Birthday, by Mark Greene and Catherine Butcher, published by Bible Society, Hope and LICC, ISBN 978 0 957 559 820. £10 for 10 copies. 2. John Stott: A Global Ministry by Timothy Dudley-Smith, published by IVP, 2001, ISBN 978 0 851 119 830, page 261–262