Anglican identity in a multi-faith age
Like Anglican Christianity, it is a 'living tension', perhaps no different from the internecine strife experienced by successive generations of the Church of England as they have pursued the quest for true Anglican identity. This Muslim woman reminds us that the Queen, as Supreme Governor of the Established Church, is not only apolitical, but she soars above the theological squabbles of the day and takes every issue back to first principles – the nature of the Christian Church. We were reminded of it as she attended the Service of Thanksgiving for her Diamond Jubilee at St Paul's Cathedral, where the fragrance and radiance of Christ were made known through her presence in a sea of sceptics, atheists, and representatives of her ecumenical and multi-faith kingdom.
The Queen not only inhabits the past life of the Church; she dwells in the Scriptures and is attuned to the creative, nodal points of contemporary culture. By her presence, she brings Scripture, tradition and reason into conversation. And as they come together in her and through her, she inspires loyalty to the State, respect for the Church, and reverence for God. Those of other faiths and none may not have sung the hymns she chose to honour her Creator and Redeemer, but they were present because of her: they tasted something of her faith because of their love for her.
The Church of England is now suspended somewhere between the decline in institutional religion and the burgeoning of generalised spirituality; between the secularisation of society and the plurality of faith communities. The postmodern context is marked by diversity, fragmentation, plurality and all that is transitory; beliefs and practices are culturally relative, and Anglicanism has ceased to be supracultural or catholic. But its Supreme Governor bears witness to its continuing relevance in a multi-faith age. Postmodern plurality presents the Church with a melting pot of cultures and ideas to which it needs to respond in different ways: there cannot be one model of mission which is inflexible and unresponsive; each situation must be met on its merits and the response must be appropriate. Essentially, the context of each parish and each church within each parish must make them sift, test, reformulate and transform mission in order that the response can be relevant and dynamic.
It is the Queen herself who inspires people of all faiths and none to honour and respect all that she symbolises, embodies and represents. To wear a union flag hijab is to acknowledge the political stability that comes from religious liberty. Speaking of her Diamond Jubilee earlier this year, she observed:
"The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.
It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.
This occasion is thus an opportunity to reflect on the importance of faith in creating and sustaining communities all over the United Kingdom. Faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action. Indeed, religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves."But it is not primarily by preaching or doing that the Queen witnesses to her great salvation, but by being.
God Save the Queen.