The Queen as Servant Leader - In honour of her reign as the longest serving Monarch in history

A Sermon by Fr Doug Ross, Curate
 

Give us grace O Lord, not only to hear your word with our ears, but also to receive it into our hearts and to show it forth in our lives; for the glory of your great name.  Amen.
We respect and honour our sovereign, who holds the title 'Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England'.  This month we recognise Her Majesty the Queen’s milestone as the longest reigning monarch in British history and celebrate that she has faithfully done her duty before God and followed her faith and the teaching of Our Lord. 
In today’s Gospel reading we hear Mathew saying:
“whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mathew 20: 26
As a young solder, a friend simply said to me that he no longer wanted to serve and thought he would quit the army – it was too hard.  In fact almost every day since then I hear the same thing from others, they no longer want to work no less serve as they have to get up too early, travel too much, be ‘on’ too often, they think that they are too wealthy, too poor, too important, or the big excuse ‘too busy’ to do work that serves others. 
Busy, you think that you are busy?  Since 1952 The Queen has:

  • Conferred over 387,700 honours and awards
  • Personally held over 540 Investitures
  • Received over 3 million items of correspondence
  • Hosted more than 1.1 million people at her Garden Parties
  • Worked with 11 British Prime Ministers.
  • Been patron of more than 620 charities and organisations.
  • Undertaken over 256 official overseas visits to 129 different countries.
  • Attended 34 Royal Variety performances.
  • Opened 15 bridges in the United Kingdom
  • Given over 91 State banquets
  • Launched 23 ships
  • Taken the salute at 63 Trooping the Colour ceremonies
  • Sat for 139+ official portraits
  • Opened Parliament every year except 2 when she was pregnant
  • Owned more than 30 corgis
And on top of all that at age 89, the Queen is a proud grandmother eight times over, with two great-grandchildren and has 30 godchildren. 
She is not too busy to serve others.
She is still at work for us as our servant.
“Whoever would be first among you must be servant of all”. (Mark 9:35)
Jesus’ concept of servant lead leadership challenges today’s concepts of power, authority, and control as the highest expressions of effective leadership. His concept of the leader as a servant reveals a pattern of leadership that embraces deep humility, disregards personal agendas, and puts others first.  The queen mirrors this approach in her leadership. 
Her Majesty refuses to rest simply on the power inherent of her position but instead continues to work to empower others to do great work through unselfish leadership.
Her message is clear.  During her Diamond Jubilee, she said “As I mark sixty years as your Queen, I dedicate myself anew to your service.  I hope that we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship and good neighbourliness.”  She is still at work and has rededicated herself to us.
The Queen also said, “I hope that this year will be a time to give thanks for the great advances that have been made since 1952 and to look forward to the future with clear head and warm heart as we join together in our celebrations”.
This is a remarkable statement given the ethos of our current world where we have a desire for quick celebrity status, fast food, disposable everything and a need for immediate gratification in a time of cynicism and short termism.  In the midst of the celebrations this month we are finding the UK in a shift to a post-Christian culture in society.
In contrast to Her Majesty’s message and dedication we find that many of us are cocooning. Instead of sharing life with the neighbourhood, the community, and especially the church, we are self-absorbed in our home entertainment centres, fitness equipment, computers, and the internet.   And many of our leaders are hiding behind the façade of perceived power and control when in fact they face moral and spiritual poverty without any idea of where to look for healing. 
It was reported by the media a few years ago that the royal wedding would “be the biggest event in television history because there are no bigger celebrities in the world than the royals”.  But it is the quiet dignity of the Queen, her influence on others, and her service approach to leadership lead by her Christian values that truly set the Monarchy apart from mere celebrity status.   She is the real thing - “convening strength” through others and building a respect for all the communities she touches.
The Bishop of London recently said that “the monarch embodies a vocational approach to life, lived, not as a self-promoter with the hedonistic values of celebrity culture, but as a servant of God.[1]” 
She is also acutely aware of her role with respect to other faith communities and has said that “faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging.  It can act as a spur for social action.  Indeed religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged.  They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves[2]”. 
And this is the point.  We have responsibilities to others beyond ourselves yet many of us end up serving ourselves rather than other people. 
Our Monarch, whose dignity and unwavering values, sets an example to us all by focusing on the needs and growth of those being led, not the needs of those who are leading. 
Through this understated approach to leadership our powerless Monarch who has no executive power may, in fact, be one of the most powerful people in the world through her influence.  To give you an example she is the head of 54 Commonwealth Nations which in 2005 had an estimated population of 2.1 billion.
”You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great”. (Psalm 18:35)
The Queen has certainly stooped down and used her dignity and virtues to make our Commonwealth a better place.
The coronation oath has guided her rule and her remarkable steadfast resolve to do what is right through times of unprecedented change is a comfort to us all throughout the Commonwealth.  During her reign many customs and traditions have changed, values have altered, and we have more freedoms to enjoy as well as new rules to follow.  The roles of work, family, leisure and faith have all altered and rights for us as individuals seem at times to replace our duty to others and to the collective communities in which we live.
Yet despite all of this change, sitting above it yet not isolated from it, remains Her Majesty.  In deed her refusal to sway with the changes has at times been criticised.  As her subjects we have felt like family members and participants as we watched through the media the delights and pains of the Royal Family as they navigate their way around contemporary society.  We have watched as her strength of character guided her through difficulties including her self-proclaimed “annus horribilis” of 1992 and the death of Princess Diana.
The Monarchy we celebrate here today at Christ The King is ancient and propagates rights and rituals that provide us with deep continuity and stability in a world where we are easily disorientated.
Rev Douglas Dales chaplain at Marlborough College says that “her strength lies in her constancy through thick and thin, in time of public favour and in the face of mockery from various quarters.  It is no mean feat to be beyond reproach and to stand fast through so many decades of relentless social change; courtesy, kindness, principle – these qualities outlast all the fads and foibles thrown up by such a restless society.”
She stands today as one of the most respected people in the world – powerless but also powerful, by virtue of her integrity, dedication and example.
The Dean of Lincoln, Philip Buckler suggests that throughout the inevitable changes over time the Queen has throughout them all “remained steadfast, yet not entirely unchanging.  Her own alteration and adaption has been achieved slowly yet surely, not with the shrill clamour of the populist but with the discreet development of one who holds the larger picture and seeks the balance of truth.[3]
This is due to her profound faith that is personal yet public.  She has increasingly alluded to this in a quiet but definite way over recent years.  In her Millennium Christmas message she said: “The teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to live my life.[4]” 
We hear the word ‘accountability’ a lot these days especially in the media and often supported with hearsay, opinion, and speculation.  Her Majesty’s example points us to a more profound way of life – one that is answerable to God not to public opinion. 
In a broadcast to the people of the commonwealth the Queen said “My whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family.[5]
She has no doubt sacrificed a lot in her calling and has worked with unending dedication for us over the past sixty three years.  The Queen is to a large extent, the brand of Great Britain and reflects all the reasons to believe in our future as a compassionate society.  Her profoundly human touch, loving and unwavering service, and attention to others has given us a collective face to the world. 
Bishop Richard (of London) proposes that “the Christian monarchy today embodies not a set of policies or the pinnacle of a hierarchical social order but a life, a fully human life, lived in the presence and calling of God who dignifies all humanity.  Such a life which is open to us all is the essential ingredient from which the Kingdom; God’s plan for the human race, grows[6]”.
Paul Vallely in the Church Times writes that “hers is a sacramental role; apart from the Pope, she is the only remaining Christian monarch who has been anointed to her task.  Yet that faith is not ceremonial, but deep and personal[7]”.
It is a time to party, to celebrate, and to remember.  This month here in Salfords we should be celebrating joining other communities from all different traditions in cheering on the Queen. 
I am sure the Queen hopes that we will do more than just celebrate her milestone.  She will want us to remember that in times of economic crisis and social breakdown that it is the importance of family, friends, and neighbours that counts.
The Queen took an oath at the coronation that she would remain as Queen for the rest of her life.  She has no retirement plans; she is still at work for us. 
Her Majesty has thanked the public for their support and encouragement.  But it is not us she needs to thank.  It is us who need to thank her for her servant leadership. 
I urge you to take some time to remember the reason for our celebrations, we need to remember what the monarch stands for and how the Queen inspires us with her Christian values.  As St. Peter said:
“Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the Sovereign” (1 Peter 2:17)
Her Majesty knows that “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.” Mathew 20: 26
Whose servant will you be this week, this month, or this year?
She is the supreme governor of the Church of England, she is our servant, she is our Queen, and she is a fantastic example of someone who has deep personal faith and lives with us as a sister in Christ.   
God Save the Queen
In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit+.  Amen.
 
[1] Chartres, Richard, Bishop of London (2012)  Jubilee then and now - A big ideas for the 21st century; Bible Society, London, p. 14.
[2] The Queen’s Speech, Lambeth Palace, 15 February, 2012.
[3] Sermon preached in Lincoln Cathedral by the Dean, the Very Revd Philip Buckler, 19th May 2012.
[4] The Queen’s 2000 Christmas Message, Crown Copyright, Parliamentary Licence no. P2009000293.
[5] The Queen’s 21st birthday address to the Commonwealth from Cape Town, BBC 1947.
 
[6] Chartres, Richard, Bishop of London, op cit.
[7] Vallely, Paul (2012) The Church Times, June 8th.