Address to the Synod

First published 22nd March 2023

Presidential Address - The Right Revd Vivienne Faull: Diocesan Synod March 2023

I was in conversation earlier in the week with the head of an international aid agency who, perhaps unsurprisingly from his perspective, talked of the multiple crises affecting our world, from war to the climate crisis, from earthquake to pandemic, he talked of what the Aid Agencies are terming permacrisis. It is in that context that I thought this morning I would place the coronation, and the demands on our Head of State, King Charles III, and our calling individually and together to pray for him (and I commend the daily prayers which have recently been published and which my office is distributing free of charge).

From the global to the local, I wonder how many members of synod have sworn an oath of allegiance to the sovereign? Not only ministers of religion, but members of the armed forms and the judiciary and we are getting used to a new name and gender in both the state prayers and national anthem.

The Diocese of Bristol is possibly not amongst the most fervently royalist in the realm. Though my own Bristolian grandparents camped out overnight in the Mall before Queen Elizabeth’s coronation and were joined by my mother and her then fiancé who, for reasons never established, brought a tennis racquet with him. Given that much has changed since 1953 I thought I ought to seize the moment to offer an indication of where a theology of contemporary monarchy may be found.

Our scriptures do not offer a clear doctrine of monarchy. As a backdrop to Jesus’ ministry neither Caesar nor Herod are treated warmly by the gospel writers. Going back into the Hebrew scriptures,  for the prophets, the campaign for monarchy to be created was a sign of failure to keep the covenant between the Lord God and God’s people and a disregard of the word and work of the judges. What had been the particular gift of the people of Israel…. to have the Lord God as their only ruler was to be sacrificed under the threat of the Philistines, to keep up with neighbouring peoples who did not worship the one true God.

But for us, by contrast, for nearly all of our national history we have lived in a monarchy, with an evolving understanding of what that means, but a constant understanding of that monarchy providing stability, continuity and organic development under God. And, in a nation without a written constitution, for the monarch to be understood as Bishop James Jones puts it, as making visible our unwritten constitutional arrangements.

In 1953, the Coronation was, as in previous coronations, a Christian service of word and sacrament within which the texts and symbols spelt out the duty of the monarch

  • That the scriptures were to be the Queen’s inspiration and guide

  • That she was anointed, as priests and prophets are, for holiness

  • That she was to minister justice, restore what was corroded, protect the church and people

  • That she was to fashion her life on that of Christ

  • And that life of faithful duty was to be offered as an anticipation of a heavenly future.

That is the demanding calling of monarchy which many of us understand as a particular version of the call to Christian discipleship.

In a nation where fewer than half, according to the 2021 census, own the description of Christian and in which many of those Christians are unfamiliar with the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, there is space and a need for the development of a broader understanding of monarchy which whilst Christian to its core, can be more capacious in our multi faith, and agnostic and secularising context.

Queen Elizabeth II herself through her long reign suggested important developments in her own thinking about and enactment to her role. From her address to the Empire on her 21st birthday, through subsequent Christmas messages and her busy diary of community engagement right to the end of her life spelled out what she meant by duty. She was anointed to rule, and that rule was made visible in service of her people. Those of us who had the privilege of preaching in her presence knew how profoundly she reflected on leadership as service, and how seriously she took the task of continuously fashioning her life on that of Christ. In his first broadcast words as king, Charles III, rather than demanding our allegiance, spoke of serving all his peoples with  loyalty, respect and love.

His final first words in that broadcast were of thanks to and for his mother, and if service might be the first expansive idea for a theology of monarchy in the 21st century the second is thanksgiving. Immediately after the oaths, ceremonies the anointing and benediction and the proclamation the Queen led the people in the offertory, giving the bread and wine to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Her reign began with thanks to God offered in the eucharist. It continued with thanksgiving to and for her people through letters and  broadcasts, in garden parties and investitures. Over and over again Queen Elizabeth showed she wanted to honour and thank those whose own servant leadership maintained the bonds of peace in our nation. She showed she understood that gratitude is the elixir which opens us up to each other and binds us together.

I am grateful to Jamie Hawkey, a colleague and friend, who has, from his canonry at Westminster Abbey suggested two more theological themes in addition to service and thanksgiving. Of these one is solidarity. That’s an odd word to use in the context of hierarchy implicit in monarchy, but more obvious in a context where politics is being depersonalised and people set against each other. When we take oaths of allegiance, we do so to a person, to His Majesty King Charles III and his heirs and successor. We don’t take oaths to a system. Or to a state. And we take oaths to a sovereign who is subject to God. In the 1953 coronation service the crown, orb and sceptre, once given to the Queen, were immediately given back to be placed on the altar. And at the committal after her death, the crown, orb and sceptre were taken from Queen Elizabeth’s coffin and placed on the altar. Royal power is penultimate, subject to God, and to be wielded for God’s purposes of justice and mercy. We have already heard some of that orientation towards the overlooked and weak from Charles III and I expect to hear more.

And Jamie’s final additional theme comes from the floor of Westminster Abbey itself, from the Cosmati pavement which will literally be the King’s footstool. The pavement is an extraordinary piece of 13th century craftwork and theology in art which sets the royal throne at the heart of the drama of creation. It is as if the monarch is not just the unifier of nations, but of our planet and other planets, of fire and air and water and earth. Perhaps this theme, of the unifier not just of peoples, but of the cosmos, is one in which King Charles III will feel particularly at home given his pioneering conservation and transformation conviction.

Service, thanksgiving, solidarity, unifier of creation, each of these redolent of the work of Christ in service of us, in thanksgiving to his Father, in the solidarity which brings our salvation and in the holding together of not just peoples but all creatures, and so offering new life to the world. These are themes which are profoundly Christian and fruitful and beneficial to our whole world.

As Charles III seeks to serve us and outr crisis-ridden world we, as the first letter of Peter 2:17 commanded, do fear God and honour the king, We do pray for him is his demanding vocation

In the words of Psalm 72


Give the king your justice O God

And your righteousness to a king’s son

May he judge your people with righteousness

And your poor with justice

May the mountains yield prosperity for the people

And the hills in righteousness.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people

Give deliverance to the needy

And crush the oppressor

May he live while the sun endures…


In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound

Until the moon is no more.


May God indeed save the King












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