Does anyone in America (besides my parents) know that this weekend is the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee celebrating Elizabeth’s 60th year on the throne? Well you can’t miss it here! While American’s fly their flags all the time, here the Union Jack doesn’t make much of an appearance unless there is a big occasion. Like the celebration of the longest reign of monarch in England since Queen Victoria. There are official festivities all weekend. Today there was a huge pageant of 1000 boats on the Thames in London (led by a barge carrying 8 bells and ringers ringing a quarter peal all the way down the river!). Tomorrow is a bank holiday (national holiday) and a big concert for the Queen in London. Tuesday is another bank holiday (a very exciting extra day off!) and a service at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
But it is the local celebrations that have been the most enjoyable and interesting for us. Growing up in America I have never really understood the whole concept of a royal family. And yet it is hard to not get into the spirit of merriment that is all around us. The girls got to leave their school uniforms in the closet on Friday and go to school dressed up for “posh” day to mark the Jubilee. They have learned the Jubilee song (below) and sung it to their grandparents and great-grandmothers with gusto.
On Wednesday Hexham Abbey hosted a special service for children from throughout the county of Northumberland attended by the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. Erica and I didn’t realize that it was only meant for kids who were invited, so we ended up sneaking in the back to join in. This morning a similar service for the community took place in the Abbey. Elements of it were quite odd for us – especially when the service closed with the hymn, “God Save the Queen.” But it was moving to reflect on all that the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth (the 54 countries voluntary associated with the UK whose ceremonial head is Queen Elizabeth) have gone through in the 60 years that she has been Queen. The most powerful part for me was hearing this recording of the 14 year-old Princess Elizabeth speaking to children on the radio in 1940.
After the service today, Hexham Abbey and other local churches hosted a community pot-luck picnic in the central park of Hexham. It was a way to mark an occasion that as the Rector reminded us, we will never see again in our lifetimes. It was also a way to reach out to the community with hospitality that had no strings attached. As an aside, I also learned that I was mistaken about funding for the Church of England in my previous post “Welcoming the Pilgrims”. The Church of England is NOT funded with money from the state. Which makes its outreach to the whole community even more of a gift born out of a faithful response to God’s gift of grace to us and the church.
The idea of an outrageously wealthy royal family passing down reign from generation to generation remains odd for me. But the value of a person serving as encourager and beacon of hope for 60 years cannot be dismissed. Perhaps more than anything, the celebrations this weekend are of a nation remembering the darkness it has been through, celebrating the triumphs it has seen, and considering the opportunities that lie before it.