A farewell to the faithful departed
The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II showcases the late monarch’s faith in God
Capping off a historic week in British history, more than 2,000 guests attended the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II on Monday morning. The late queen herself deliberately planned the details of the service as a last message to her country. The events of the day blended her faith, her family, and her leadership.
“The pattern for many leaders is to be exalted in life and forgotten after death,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby opened his sermon. “The pattern for all who serve God, famous or obscure, respected or ignored is that death is the door to glory. Her Majesty’s example was not set through her position or her ambition but through whom she followed.”
Welby went on to point out that the queen had stood on the high altar just feet away and begun her coronation in 1953 with silent prayer. Only six years earlier, she declared in a speech on her 21st birthday, “my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Welby answered: “Rarely has such a promise been so well kept.”
Retired British expat Alec Clelland watched the funeral on Monday morning from Munich. He told WORLD that Welby’s message was poignant because it spotlighted Queen Elizabeth’s unique leadership.
“She became a servant. Hers was a soft power that didn’t give commands, but gave advice when asked,” Clelland said. “So many leaders today, including evangelical leaders, seek after power and influence, and that’s not the Christian way. The queen, even though she had power, didn’t do that.”
As the British sovereign, Queen Elizabeth also held the title “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.” The position gives the monarch constitutional authority over the Church of England but not governance. Over her 70-year reign, religious leaders noted that this was not just a label.
“The queen was a person of profound faith,” said Iain Torrance, a former chaplain to the queen who offered a prayer during Monday’s ceremony, told the World Council of Churches. “This underpinned everything she did. While I cannot and would not refer to private conversations, I can point to her remarkable Christmas broadcasts in which she frequently drew on her Christian convictions.”
Punctuating each section of the one-hour service, the Choir of Westminster Abbey sang an assortment of hymns and psalms handpicked by Queen Elizabeth. She included a rendition of “The Lord’s My Shepherd,” a hymn rumored to be one of her favorites and included in a top 10 list in a 2016 BBC documentary. The Abbey was the same site for her wedding in 1947 and her coronation in 1953.
Following Welby’s sermon, church leaders offered a series of prayers for Queen Elizabeth’s reign, for the nation, for the succeeding King Charles III, and for government officials. The service concluded with a commendation of her soul by the Dean of Westminster, David Hoyle, and two minutes of silence. The Queen’s Piper then played a lament as a team of pallbearers from the Queen’s Company, flown in from deployment in Iraq, began to transport the royal coffin to a public procession in the heart of London.
The public was in the spotlight almost as much as the monarch. The coffin containing the queen’s remains has lain in state in Westminster Hall for the past week, and hundreds of thousands of people lined up in a phenomenon commonly dubbed “The Queue,” some waiting more than 24 hours to walk through the heart of London to pay their respects for a few moments. At its peak, the queue stretched more than seven miles.
Thousands more flocked to giant outdoor screens set up at several points across the United Kingdom, where they watched nearly in complete silence. One of the few alterations to the original funeral plan: the queen was taken on a longer route from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch to allow more members of the public to see the procession. A 96-gun salute and constant tolling from Big Ben permeated the air of central London.
Colleen Catterall of Sheffield was attending a different funeral on Monday morning, but the assembled mourners also participated in the two-minute silence to commemorate the late queen. She saw the queen’s faith as something that set her apart.
“What other woman in history has commanded such respect and honor? She clearly loved Jesus and got her direction from him,” Catterall said. “In her Christmas programs, she wished Christmas greetings to her subjects in the Commonwealth, and she used it as a platform to talk about Jesus. I’d use Micah 6:8 to describe her. [do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God]. I see that in her life.”
In a tradition from Queen Victoria’s funeral, 142 Royal Navy sailors pulled the gun carriage holding the royal coffin down “the Long March” through the capital city to Hyde Park Corner. There, a hearse carried the late queen down densely lined streets to a committal service at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle to be buried in an annex with her husband, Prince Philip, her father King George VI, and her mother and sister. Roughly 800 royal family members and household staff will attend the ceremony, followed by a family-only private burial in the evening.
Additional reporting by European correspondent Jenny Lind Schmitt.
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