The Royal Thanksgiving Service

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27 Sep, 2022

Martin Hodson, our General Director, reflects on attending the Service of Thanksgiving for Queen Elizabeth at St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh.

“I paused for a moment as I passed the royal coffin, unsure what to do, conscious that the ubiquitous TV cameras might glance down on me. In the line ahead some military types had performed mechanical salutes and there had been the occasional curtsy or sweeping bow. Others had drunk in the moment by looking mistily into the medium distance. I followed my instinct and offered a modest bow of the head. Respectful but not showy, I thought.

Then out through the east door I was dazzled by the autumn sunshine and took a moment to reflect on the last hour. The United Kingdom’s longest reigning monarch, who had died in Scotland four days before, had been brought to St Giles’ Cathedral for a national service of thanksgiving. A few hundred representatives of our national life had been invited to the service, all of us mindful of the many thousands gathered around us on the heavy stone walls. I was present on behalf of the Baptist churches in Scotland. It is the only event I have attended that genuinely merited the adjective ‘momentous’.

Image captured from TV broadcast by BBC.

Yet the outstanding feature for me was just how Christian it was. The gathered congregation sang hymns of profound faith in Christ and prayed humble prayers in his name. At the heart of the service was scripture: two psalms (sung) and weighty readings from the Old Testament, Epistles and Gospels. It did occur to me that we bathed in scripture more deeply than in many Baptist worship services I have led.

No one questioned the appropriateness of ‘so much Christianity’ in a national event because The Queen’s own Christian commitment was rehearsed again and again by observers, commentators and those who had known her closely. The service had not been an awkward fusion of church and state but an entirely appropriate thanksgiving for a sincere follower of Christ. As words like faithfulness, integrity and commitment clustered at the heart of eulogies across the media, they were used interchangeably for her loyalty to her vocation to serve the nation and to serve Christ.

As I joined in the chatter of politicians and faith leaders outside the cathedral, shortly to gather again in the Holyrood Parliament for motions of consolation to The King, I thought about our increasingly secular nation. More than half the population describe themselves as having no religion and plenty of people worry if and how there can be a Christian voice in public life. The late Queen has shown us that one thing that cannot be ignored is the testimony of a consistent, authentic, Christian life. The only way to honour the story of a life centred on Christ is with Christ at the centre.

Though I only gave a simple nod to the royal coffin that day at St Giles, my ambition is to humble myself in every way in the sight of the Lord who loves me and saves me. I hope and pray that my life and yours will write such stories that in their final telling it will be impossible to speak of them without Christ at the centre.”

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