Rev Dr Tim Bradshaw on how the Queen has served

Elizabeth II has just become the longest serving monarch of Great Britain and she has done so with a distinct absence of fanfare and show.

Our respective newspapers offer differing views of her reign, republicans downplaying it and monarchists celebrating it.

Professional historians used by the media are in no doubt however that the Queen has made the monarchy, for the time being, secure in the affections of ordinary people.

Her work rate has been extraordinary and her motivation of serving the nation, a vow made to the people on the death of her father and at her coronation service, is recognised to be very important to her.

This connects strongly to her Christian faith and a Medieval tradition of serving the people, manifested symbolically in the Maundy Thursday tradition of giving money to the poor.

The Queen was formally crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, a statement that her authority is from a higher source than herself. She has chosen to implement this loyalty to God in terms of a deep service ethic.

As David Owen said on Radio 4, she is a committed Christian woman, and that drives through all she tries to do.

In this we could say, with Polly Toynbee of the Guardian and formerly the BBC, that the monarchy is an absurd hangover and needs ending, presumably along with the established church which the Queen formally heads.

But on the other we might say that the Queen, as a Christian woman imbued with the ethic of her faith, is an important counter-cultural figure against the ‘me’ generation of narcissistic hedonism, autonomous individualism, moral relativism, and scientistic reductionism, to use the four categories of Tom Oden, an America theologian.

As society has chosen to push God to the boundaries, the Queen has stuck to her faith, as her Christmas broadcasts show.

One recent marker of the move away from the service ethic was the recent statistic that there is a shortage in students wanting to train as doctors in the UK, as well as nurses.

The Queen is constitutionally a powerless monarch: she wields much less power than, say, the BBC as an institution in the land.

And yet she has built up a huge stock of moral authority by her determination not to get involved in party politics nor activism. Her role is to offer counsel where asked.

Her son Charles seems to offer a very different model: he is an activist for several causes, famously writes to ministers pressing his concerns, and uses his wealth to foster policies. Oxford’s huge Islamic Centre near St Clements was built as a result of his friendship with the Sultan of Brunei and his vast funding.

We could not see the Queen pursuing her own agendas in this way, and it does seem a risky path for the successor to the Queen to take, when that moment comes. Now however, traditionally Royalist Oxford can sleep easy: a return of Cambridge’s Oliver Cromwell seems some way off.