Dean pays tribute to a life of selfless duty by Queen Elizabeth

editorial image

On Wednesday evening of last week, September 9, a special Service of Thanksgiving was held at St Columb’s Cathedral to celebrate the long reign of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

The Dean of Derry’s 20-minute address on Wednesday, September 9, 2015, at the Service of Thanksgiving for the reign of HM Queen Elizabeth II, is reproduced below in full.

Reliable calculations reveal that around 5.30pm on Wednesday HM The Queen had been reigning for 23,226 days, 16 hours and approximately 30 minutes; thus exceeding the record of her Great-Great-grandmother,Queen Victoria by some seven minutes.

The same sources also say that the exact moment Her Majesty became Queen is hard to calculate, as her father, King George VI, died in his sleep in the early hours of the morning, possibly at around 1am.

There is, however, not any need to dwell in minutes and seconds, but rather to focus on what today’s achievement is all about; a truly remarkable story about a truly remarkable lady.

It is extremely difficult to comprehend adequately the colossal achievement which this is for Her Majesty. We may say among ourselves in conversations ‘Isn’t it wonderful’, ‘Isn’t The Queen magnificent for her age’, ‘What a fantastic achievement’. We may say all these things, but I wonder though, have any of us really ever stopped to think about the sheer immensity of The Queen’s workload; about the effort and energy such a demanding role requires and about the unrelenting constancy of her work day by day.

We should remember, and this is to The Queen’s enormous credit, in light of what she achieves, that she is actually in her 90th year.

A glimpse of how extremely devotedly and meticulously she has carried out her role as Sovereign since her coronation can be seen from the fact that, while today marks a huge milestone in her reign, she is not eager to mark it.

As I mentioned in the preface to this service on page two of the Order of Service, which you may have read, The Queen did not wish to have today regarded in any triumphalist sense whatsoever. She did not wish to have street parties, or carnivals or anything like that, but rather, to have this magnificent achievement acknowledged reverently and with sensitivity. That is precisely why we chose here in the Cathedral to have a service of the nature in which we are now all engaging; which I think would best sum up The Queen’s response to today, a response I would say so characteristic of her modesty. Due to the fact the essence of today involves Her Majesty herself and her achievement of this record of outstanding service, she wished it to be regarded as just another day and business as usual.

I said earlier that this is a truly remarkable story about a truly remarkable lady. Well, it certainly is all of that. While in her 90th year and while having been advised by her courtier to shorten her working day, The Queen apparently has not any immediate plans to cut down on her workload, which must be immense, with endless documents to be read and studied and if necessary, signed, correspondence to be read and answered, awards presented, hands shaken, the list goes on.

As well as this, she likes only to take breaks near at home like, for example, spending September at Balmoral. Even today, you will have seen in the media, she was opening the new Borders to Edinburgh Railway instead of having the day off. An interesting aside is this: I was thinking that most of the railways in Britain would have been constructed during the reign of her Great-Great-Grandmother, Queen Victoria, and yet today there is a wonderful sense of continuity as Queen Elizabeth opens a new railway; building on the tradition of what has gone before, which is after all, in the nature of monarchy in so many respects.

That sense of continuity to which I refer was aptly summed up by The Queen’s grandson, Prince William in a book ‘Elizabeth II: The Steadfast.

It is a new biography of The Queen by former Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, written specially to mark this new landmark in her reign.

In that book Prince William said: “I speak for my generation when I say that the example and continuity by her is not only very rare among leaders but a great source of price and reassurance. Time and again quietly and modestly The Queen has shown us all that we can confidently embrace the future without compromising the things that are important.

“From a personal point of view, I am privileged to witness the private side of The Queen as a grandmother and a great-grandmother, her kindness and sense of humour, her innate sense of calm, perspective and her love of family and home are all attributes I experience firsthand.”

This all reveals that such an achievement did not happen by accident. Her distinctive combination of hard work, overwhelming sense of duty and the capacity to change without ever appearing to do so, has worked in her favour, especially in an era when the globe seems to spin faster. It has been said and it is very true that no other Sovereign has witnessed as much change as she has: From jet travel to the birth of the Internet, from out arrival on the moon to the age of the computer download.

I read, interestingly, that The Queen joined Facebook in 2010 under the title The British Monarchy; that she has been on Twitter since 2009 and was, in fact, the first monarch to send an email.

In her reign to date Queen Elizabeth has given audiences every Tuesday evening to 12 Prime Ministers from Winston Churchill to David Cameron, hosted 12 Presidents of the USA, met seven Archbishops of Canterbury and six Popes, held well over 600 investitures, launched at least 23 ships, went on over 260 overseas visits including almost 100 State Visits to almost 120 countries and in that has been 16 times to Australia, 22 times in Canada, six times in Jamaica and 10 times in New Zealand.

Somebody remarked today about her trip four years ago to Australia, when she was able to after a long, long flight of 24 hours or more, to walk down from the plane as active and as fit as ever. Absolutely a magnificent achievement.

In an average year The Queen hosts some 50,000 plus people at banquets, luncheons, dinner, at receptions and garden parties at Buckingham Palace alone. Over 1.5 million people have attended garden parties in all the various places since she came to the Throne.

She has attended, and this might probably be the most arduous, of all her engagements, she has attended, 35 Royal Variety performances.

Somebody of a rather humorous vein asked today if I could find out anything unusual about her, and this is just a few: She is the only person who can drive without a licence or number plate on her State car, also, she can’t be booked for speeding and, in 2005, The Queen actually claimed ownership of 88 cygnets on the River Thames and, apparently, they are looked after by the Swan Marker. The first Royal Swan Keeper was appointed apparently, around the 12th Century.

I also discovered, and I am sure it is accurate enough, that The Crown has the right to Royal fish, including sturgeons, in waters around the United Kingdom and that a statue from 1324 at the time of the reign of King Edward II states that ‘also the King shall have whales and sturgeons taken in the sea or elsewhere within the Realm.

Now this statute, apparently, is still valid today and sturgeons, porpoises, whales and dolphins are recognised as ‘Fishes Royal’. And, when caught or washed ashore in UK waters, dead or alive, they may be claimed on behalf of The Crown.

On a more serious note, we offer our thanks to Almighty God on this very significant day for the reign to date of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as today she reaches this huge milestone as the longest reigning monarch in British history.

We thank God for Her Majesty’s outstanding service, stability, steadfastness and devotion to duty; for her faithfulness in all the duties she carries out as Queen. Her Majesty is totally aware of the call and duty of service and what a truly magnificent, brilliant and unblemished record, if I may be so bold as to express an opinion, Her Majesty has established since becoming Queen.

We have no doubt heard expressed on many occasions, she has never put a foot wrong.

We can not do any better than to emulate even in a humble and small way some of Her Majesty’s wonderful attributes. We can see in her life the extraordinary value of selfless service to others, of doing our duty, of doing what is right, which is so different from ‘doing what we do’ for the sake of short-lived celebrity or fame or fortune. Doing our duty could easily be thought dull and uninspired compared to more dramatic or innovative approaches to life, but from The Queen’s example, we can see the value of duty done day after day, week after week, year after year.

It is the sense of that same faithful duty that should fall on us all as members of the Christian Church in all its different branches, of worshiping Almighty God in our respective accustomed forms and of faithfully adhering to the traditions and ethos of our respective churches. Doing out duty, Worship, should also be applied in terms of doing our duty to our daily work, carrying out our duties to the best of our ability and treating others as we would that they should treat us.

Her majesty The Queen has always said that it is her Christian Faith upon which she has built her life.

It is interesting that The Orb, placed into her hand at her coronation, has a cross above it. The Sceptre of Equity and Mercy given to her is surmounted by a dove, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. The Crown placed on her head has a cross at its peak, and in the service the Archbishop gives her a Bible.

She has approached life in all of those ways, with an unwavering faith, a high courage and a quiet heart.

Today as we mark this record of duty and service, we celebrate the reign of Queen Elizabeth II with thanksgiving that she has long reigned over us, but also with deep gratitude and affection for the example she has given of living true to The One in whose image we all are made. She has given us service and leadership of stature, integrity and quality.

The second verse of the National Anthem includes a prayer which God has richly answered for us over the years of The Queen’s reign: ‘Thy choicest gifts in store, On her be pleased to pour’

She has given us real cause to sing with heart and voice, ‘God Save The Queen’.