We continue our series on…
The A- Z of the Christian Faith
Q for Queen.
This may seem a strange word to choose in an A-Z of the Faith. What has “Queen” got to do with Christianity? Well, its one way of writing about the Church of England – because the Queen is the ‘Supreme Governor’ of our Church.
You may have noticed that when people are ordained, or licensed to a church, they have to swear an oath of obedience to the Bishop, and an oath of allegiance to the Sovereign. How has this come about?
Well, most of us know that Henry
VIII fell out with the Pope over authority, and that from then on, there was a
break between Rome and Canterbury which has not been mended to this day. After
Henry’s time, there was a time of chaos – his son Edward being a young man,
was made by his advisers, to insist on a very Protestant Church, while Mary, his
daughter, took the Church and country back to Rome again.
It was Elizabeth I who really put in place what we have today. In her day, everyone was assumed to be a Christian – other faiths and no faith didn’t come into it. So, she was determined that there would be only one church – the Church of England. The country would not be torn apart by religious wars, and nor would powerful rulers from other countries (that is, the Pope) rule the church here. Also, by making herself Supreme Governor, and having patronage in the church, and by the Bishops having a role in the state, she tried to ensure that the church and the state were locked together – the church of the nation, and the national church. It is the remains of this system (though modified) that we have today. Bishops are appointed by the Prime Minister (and then the Queen) acting on the recommendation of the Church. Bishops still sit in the House of Lords, therefore priests may not (Did you know that only criminals, lunatics, and Anglican Priests are disqualified from standing for Parliament and seats in the Commons?)
Church Law is the law of the land – so a priest is also a registrar, which is why we don’t need one at weddings. Our parishes may only have their boundaries changed and our churches may be closed, by the decisions going through parliament. All major changes in the church, such as the ordination of women, or a new prayer book, have to be agreed in General Synod and then go through Parliament.
To go back to the Queen. At her coronation, she took vows to God and to her people, very much as a priest does at ordination. She agreed to rule, and to serve, all her days, under God, as His Monarch on earth. She was blessed and anointed, and crowned and took Holy Communion. That is why she does not ‘retire’, ‘resign’, or ‘abdicate’ because vows are for life. She will be queen until she dies, as priests are priests until they die.
There have been many arguments about whether our system, and all the laws and symbols that go with it, ought to be abolished. We no longer take it for granted that everyone is a Christian, and that the monarch symbolizes the union of church and state under God. Time and space does not permit me to set out the arguments for and against here, but I would say that we shouldn’t be in any hurry to change it, purely because so many parts of it are interconnected, from the very centres of power in out country, right down to the local level, and I am inclined to believe that a new system would leave out God and any mention of God, rather than be just more inclusive.
It is significant that our national anthem is not about England or Britain, but about a person, and it is addressed to God. We have a sovereign, a human being, to symbolise our country, and she serves us because she vowed to God she would. She has been doing so now for fifty years, and is still Supreme Governor of the Church of England. What will happen after her time is anyone’s guess.