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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Emotional Monarchist: thoughts on Coronation Day

Today has been a day to think about the monarchy once more. On the 60th anniversary of the Coronation, I preached about the Coronation Oath this morning (weblink below). At evensong we welcomed a large crowd to celebrate the anniversary at a service wonderfully sung by the combined choirs of two local schools, which included Handel’s favourite coronation anthem Zadok the Priest.  I led prayers of thanksgiving and on behalf of the congregation offered congratulations to The Queen.

It posed the question, not for the first time, what kind of monarchist I am. That question needs putting in context.  Like every Church of England priest, I am required to take the oath of allegiance to the Sovereign every time I am appointed to a new post. I have twice been appointed to cathedral deaneries by the Crown, and am also a deputy lieutenant of the County.  So it’s a natural presumption that I am committed to the idea of monarchy and recognise that the constitutional Sovereign has a part to play in the life of both state and church.

I believe I now know where the seat of my loyalty to and affection for the Sovereign lies. It is not so much intellectual as emotional and spiritual. With my mind, I recognise that monarchy is not the only, and not the most obvious, constitutional arrangement for a modern democratic nation-state. Other successful nations are not monarchies. I also recognise the abuses of power perpetrated in the past by absolute monarchs, especially when undergirded by religion under some such rubric as the divine right of kings.  And I am sensitive about the risks of deference, where too high a doctrine of subject-hood and obedience can undermine true citizenship where all participate for the common good.

But the heart has its reasons….

At last year’s Diamond Jubilee, and again today, I have felt a deep sense of attachment to the British monarchy and of gratitude for the way in which our Queen has expressed it over six decades. I don’t need to recapitulate the virtues of dignity, wisdom and Christian faith that have characterised her reign. I said this morning: ‘On this anniversary, we give thanks once again for the faithfulness with which as a Christian queen, Elizabeth has consecrated herself to live her coronation vow. We celebrate her obedience to this vocation: unlooked for, unwanted, thrust upon her by history, yet embodied with dignity and wisdom. Leadership wedded to humane discipleship is a gift to any people’.

The point is, I think, that the reign of a particular king or queen usually happens over a longer time span than any political administration.  This allows a nation’s loyalties to be built up and tested over many years. Perhaps (lots of maybes here) this sense of tradition (= ‘what is handed on’) and continuity helps a nation retain its hold on a sense of history that reaches further back than the last few years.  Perhaps it also helps inculcate the ability (on a good day) to avoid short-termism and take a longer view of the future. Who knows?  It’s important not to claim too much here, but the questions are worth asking.

But most of all, a long reign helps bond sovereign and people together in an almost mystical relationship that is affective rather than cognitive – felt in the heart and spirit rather than simply known in the mind. Of course, that relationship (to which many would give the name of reciprocated love) will itself be subject to fluctuations – like any other. But I think we can say that there is a personal dimension to this relationship of Sovereign to people which draws out our affection, and possibly more, whether we have met her physically or not. And this is where the particular and unique way the Sovereign inhabits (I almost wrote ‘incarnates’) the office is everything.

Elizabeth the Second is the only monarch most of us have known. Who is to say that her example hasn’t helped shape the way my post-war generation came to understand the virtues of duty and responsibility, loyalty and trust, not to say Christian discipleship?  As we honour her today for her consecration to her Coronation Oath, we thank her for what she has embodied for us with dedication for so many years.  We thank God.  And if some of us were a little moved at what we saw and heard today, should that surprise us?  Perhaps quite a lot of us are emotional monarchists, in one sense or another.

Today’s sermon is at http://deanstalks.blogspot.co.uk/

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