Andy Hawes 


Faith & Duty


It has been noted by many commentators that Queen Elizabeth ‘fulfilled her duties in a peerless way.’ Duty is not a term used very often in contemporary society, although it is a refrain in the church’s liturgy that to give thanks is a duty and joy. In living dutifully, a person recognises that they have commands to obey and tasks they are given. It is a recognition of living under authority and thereby suppressing self-will to fulfil the will of a superior. The power of Queen Elizabeth’s Christian witness is found in her servanthood: she could have used the words of the servant in the illustration of Jesus (Luke 17.10): ‘we are unworthy servants, we have only done what is our duty’.

There is no doubt that most of the public worship that the Queen attended was that of the Book of Common Prayer. There is a great emphasis on being a humble and obedient servant in the Prayer Book liturgies. One only has to remember the reading of the Commandments at the beginning of Holy Communion, and the people’s response, ‘incline our hearts to fulfil this law’. The Prayer Book has a phrase that would have been familiar to the Queen; ‘bounden duty.’ The emphasis is on service. Her spirituality was formed by diligent and dutiful lay membership of the church: worship on a Sunday, regular Holy Communion, personal reading of Scripture and prayer, and supporting the mission of the church by ‘bearing witness to the hope that lies within’.


    In effect, these simple duties form a rule of life that bind a person to Christ. A useful spiritual exercise is to make an audit of those ‘duties’ that form the scaffold of daily life. These might include the duties that are placed on a married person, or a parent or child. Being employed, by necessity, lays duties upon a person. Prayer to aid an examination of conscience might be to ask the Lord to reveal where one is failing in fulfilling duties? The Lord teaches that the being dutiful brings the kingdom of God nearer. As Edward King (Bishop of Lincoln 1885-1910) put it in his retreat addresses Duty and Conscience – ‘One person, doing their duty, can do great things for God’.

The late Queen provided an example of dutiful Christian living that step by step, and day by day, enabled her to fulfil her role and to develop a discerning heart and mind. Being dutiful fixes the mind and will on the task of the moment. In this way, duty draws us into the details of our daily life, and in this way to serve God in all things. To walk the path of the ‘unworthy servant,’ to repeat the prayer ‘thy will not mine be done,’ is the way of the cross. This was the path of Queen Elizabeth which enabled her, in the face of many crises, to maintain a stability in herself that was a source of strength to others. It enabled her to be an agent of reconciliation (as in Ireland) and a guiding spiritual light (as in the pandemic). We can certainly say of her ‘well done, good and faithful servant, enter into you master’s happiness!’.