Q&A: Anglicanism and the Monarchy

News of Queen Elizabeth’s passing is only a few hours old, but I’ve already started answering questions about the British Monarchy and its relationship to Anglican Christianity.

The late Queen was a practicing member of the Church of England. His living Christian faith was apparent in his public functions, his private worship and his dealings with Christian ministers from various walks of life (his friendship with the late evangelist Billy Graham was significant enough to warrant an entire episode of Netflix’s “The Crown”).

A reader asks about a monarch’s coronation service, which for Elizabeth II was held at Westminster Abbey in June 1953. Is it a “high church” service?

That’s a fair question, since the Queen’s church form is “lower church”. Religious journalists sometimes confuse “Low Church” as “Evangelical” and “High Church” as “Anglo-Catholic”, but these categories do not completely overlap.

I think the fundamental question here was “is the coronation service liturgically formal?” to which the answer is yes (BBC footage of the Queen’s coronation is view here). Elizabeth II’s coronation service was formal and ritualized (and surely her son’s coronation will be too) but it is not a Mass – the main Eucharistic liturgical service. The historical difference between High Church and Low Church is not formal. High Church worship, seen in a solemn High Mass, is centered on sacramental ministry, while Low Church worship is centered on the proclamation of the Word of God. In short, you can have a low church service that is formal, but I wouldn’t place the coronation in either church category.

Another reader asks if King Charles is now the head of the Anglican Church in North America, or would be if the ACNA officially joined the institutional structures of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The British Sovereign holds the title of “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England”. This does not extend to the Anglican Communion and the other 41 Anglican provinces (national churches) outside the Church of England, which are functionally autonomous (although they continue to relate to each other) .

The titular role of the monarch in the church is to formally appoint high-ranking members of the church on the advice of the British Prime Minister (the Church of England is a state church and senior bishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, sit in the House of Lords). The aforementioned coronation service will include the participation of Church of England clergy.

This responsibility is reflected in the questions of the Archbishop of Canterbury asked of the Queen at her coronation:

“Will you, to the best of your ability, uphold the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel?

“Will you, as far as you can, maintain in the United Kingdom the Reformed Protestant religion established by law?

“Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the establishment of the Church of England, and its doctrine, worship, discipline and government, according to established law in England?

And will you retain to the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches committed therein to their Charge, all the Rights and Privileges which by Law belong or shall belong to them, or to any of them? between them ? »

Additionally, the Archbishop (along with the Moderator of the Church of Scotland) presented the Bible to the Queen, with the words:

“Our gracious Queen:
to keep Your Majesty ever mindful of the law and the gospel of God
as a rule for the whole life and government of Christian princes,
we present this Book to you,
the most precious thing this world offers.

And the Moderator continued:

Here is Wisdom;
It is royal law;
They are the living oracles of God.

Amazing language. I suggest that clergy include in their job descriptions that they “preach the living oracles of God.”

Do you have questions about the Church and the Monarchy? Bring them along in the comments below. Special thanks to my colleague and Church history professor Ryan Danker, whom I consulted in my responses.


Barry F. Howard