The Queen’s role as "Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England”, was both an important element of her role as Monarch and a deeply personal part of her life. Her Majesty spoke openly on many occasions of the strength she took from her Christian faith, and often turned to the teachings of the Bible at difficult moments in her own life and the life of the Nation. She respected all faiths, seeing them as a force for good in the world, and a way of bringing communities together.
Duties as Head of the Church of England
At her Coronation in 1953, The Queen was anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and took an oath to "maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England".
Since the 16th century Monarchs have sworn to maintain the Church of Scotland and The Queen made her pledge to "preserve the settlement of the true Protestant religion as established by the laws made in Scotland" on her Accession in February 1952.
In 1970, The Queen became the first Sovereign to inaugurate and address the General Synod, the legislative body of the Church of England, in person. Since then, Her Majesty inaugurated and addressed the opening session of the General Synod every five years after diocesan elections.
In 2021, when The Queen was unable to attend, The Earl of Wessex went in her place, reading The Queen’s address which looked ahead to the latest session of reflection and decision-making for The Church of England, “Archbishops and members, the opening of a new Synod provides an opportunity for us all to give thanks for the witness of those who have gone before, and pray for wisdom as you seek to balance change and continuity in the decisions that lie ahead.”
Every Maundy Thursday, the day on which Christians commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus, The Queen would distribute special Maundy money to local pensioners. For many years, Her Majesty visited a different Cathedral or Abbey for each service, travelling the length and breadth of the UK.
In 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, the Maundy service could not be held in person, so the Maundy coins were blessed in the Chapel Royal and recipients received them in the post along with a personal letter from The Queen.
In 2022 The Queen asked the then Prince of Wales to attend the Royal Maundy Service at St George’s Chapel on Her Majesty’s behalf.
The Queen was involved with many faith-related charities including the National Churches Trust, The Boys' Brigade and the YMCA.
The Queen was a committed Christian and often referred to her faith in her annual Christmas Broadcasts - the moment in the year when she was able to reflect on events and express more personal views.
In 2014, she said:
For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ's example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people, of whatever faith or none.
In 2020, during the Coronavirus pandemic, unable to attend the Royal Maundy service as she usually did, Her Majesty recorded a special Easter broadcast for the only time in her reign. She spoke of light as a symbol of hope, used across different faiths, but particularly relevant at Easter time:
“As darkness falls on the Saturday before Easter Day, many Christians would normally light candles together. In church, one light would pass to another, spreading slowly and then more rapidly as more candles are lit. It’s a way of showing how the good news of Christ’s resurrection has been passed on from the first Easter by every generation until now.”
As Head of the Nation and Head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty recognised and celebrated other faiths in the UK and the Commonwealth.
She hosted the leaders of numerous faiths and denominations and visited many different places of worship in the UK and across the Commonwealth.
During her Golden Jubilee, The Queen celebrated with many British non-Christian communities, visiting the Highgate Hill Murugan (Hindu) Temple, the Manchester Jewish Museum, an Islamic Centre in Scunthorpe and the Guru Nanak Gurdhwara in Leicester.
To mark the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh attended a multi-faith reception at Lambeth Palace, which was hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury and attended by the leaders of eight other faiths in the UK.
In June 2019 Her Majesty, joined by The Duchess of Gloucester, hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the work of UK faith and belief groups in bringing local communities together.