As head of the royal family, Queen Elizabeth II played a role in more than just political affairs. She also helped lead the Church of England and held the title of “Defender of the Faith.”
“Her duties included appointing archbishops, bishops and deans of the Church of England as advised by the prime minister. In 1970, she became the first sovereign to inaugurate and address the church’s general synod in person, a practice she continued every five years after diocesan elections,” Christianity Today reported Thursday after news broke of Queen Elizabeth II’s death.
Although British monarchs always worked closely with religious leaders, their formal religious role dates back to the Reformation period, when Henry VIII was given the “Defender of the Faith” title from the pope, who was pleased he had rejected Martin Luther’s teachings, according to Religion News Service.
Soon after, as the article noted, Henry broke from the Catholic Church and “declared himself head of the new Church of England.”
But then, after Henry’s death, the royal family’s relationship to the church shifted again, enabling ordained leaders to make most decisions on their own.
“The British monarch retains constitutional authority in the established church but does not govern it,” Religion News Service reported.
On Thursday, the senior bishop in the Church of England, the Rev. Justin Welby, released a statement expressing gratitude for the queen, noting that the royal family would be in his prayers.
“It was my great privilege to meet Her Late Majesty on many occasions. Her clarity of thinking, capacity for careful listening, inquiring mind, humor, remarkable memory and extraordinary kindness invariably left me conscious of the blessing that she has been to us all,” the Rev. Welby, who is archbishop of Canterbury, said.
He noted that Elizabeth’s “trust in God” was visible throughout her 70 years in power.
“She lived out her faith every day of her life. Her trust in God and profound love for God was foundational in how she led her life — hour by hour, day by day. In The Late Queen’s life, we saw what it means to receive the gift of life we have been given by God and — through patient, humble, selfless service — share it as a gift to others,” the Rev. Welby said.
Christianity Today’s article noted that Elizabeth often spoke of “the importance of her faith and recommended it to her subjects.”
“For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life,” the queen said in her Christmas message in 2000, according to Christianity Today.
In other words, her faith was not performative.
“She attended church regularly throughout her life and is said to have had an uncomplicated, Bible- and prayer-book-based faith,” Religion News Service reported.
Because of the important role faith played in her own life, Elizabeth worked to understand the role it played in others’ lives. She embraced opportunities to learn about non-Christian religions and boost acceptance of religious diversity, according to Christianity Today.
“The queen’s efforts were recognized in 2007 by the Three-Faiths Forum, an organization dedicated to building understanding and lasting relationships between people of all faiths and beliefs. It presented Her Majesty with the Sternberg Interfaith Gold Medallion, awarded to individuals who have helped promote peace and tolerance among people of different faiths,” the article noted.
In recognition of this work and her many years of leadership, several faith leaders released statements Thursday about Elizabeth, including the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Pope Francis.