Although school years are cyclical, each one really is unique. When we restart the school engine after the summer, we are never quite sure what will be different and what will remain unchanged for another year.
It is about 210 school years since the very first Church of England schools were created. For a third of those 210 years, Queen Elizabeth was the head of the Church of England. Every morning, for 70 years until this morning, Elizabeth was our Queen. We awoke to the realisation that yesterday, was her last day with us and things will never be quite the same again.
Death has felt close since I wrote to you last. Over the summer we lost Revd Chris Penn and Revd Preb Ann Barge from our diocese. Also, a great friend of the cathedral, Doug Harding, sadly passed away in July. Chris served on the Diocesan Board of Education for many years. Doug worked with my dad back in the day and would regularly pull my leg about various things, when my son was singing in the cathedral choir, including on Christmas Day.
St Laurence’s in Ludlow held a truly beautiful requiem mass for Rev Ann on Wednesday. In her wonderful sermon, Archdeacon Fiona, compared Rev Ann to Mary because of her humility and selfless service. Ann too was filled with loving grace and spent her days serving others in a way which offers us all a pattern we can follow to find a modern Christian way of being. Revd Ann’s husband, Ian, taught me English Literature A level at Ludlow College in the early 90s. He read ‘God’s Grandeur’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins at the requiem service. I had never heard it before. Mr Barge’s voice sent me back 30 years, as he read bravely through his own grief. He always was a truly great teacher. He still is.
My wife’s grandmother, Delphine Coleman, passed away a few days ago. Those of you who attended our conference in October 2019, may remember me presenting Archbishop Justin with a book she had written about Kingstone. She was very pleased with the picture I took (and Tweeted) of the Archbishop of Canterbury holding her book. She was a teacher in south Herefordshire until she retired to South Wales with her husband Eric. Delphine was 96 when she died and regularly liked to observe that she was exactly the same age as Her Majesty. She felt the connection in their parallel stages of life through the decades.
The loss of those we know and love is painful, partly because we lose a connection to our own past. Although the music plays on, one of the instruments is missing from that point onward. As we get older, there seem to be fewer and fewer links that go all the way back to our earliest memories.
I am mindful that today is the first day in my 5 decades that the sun has risen on a morning where there is no Queen Elizabeth II. I’m not alone, of course. Our schools will open today and, in all likelihood, no one working in your school will remember a day before Queen Elizabeth was our monarch. Or perhaps you still have one or two who do?
Despite Her Majesty’s age, yesterday’s events came as a shock. The sounds of summer Jubilee events seem to have barely faded. Many of us will perhaps be recalling the stories of when the paths of our own lives crossed with hers in some way. Many years ago, I can remember waiting near the runaway at Shobdon airfield. We’d had a tip off that the queen would be landing. I can remember her waving to the small crowd as she exited the aircraft. I think she wore bright yellow, that day.
My son sang for her in 2012 when she visited Hereford and my youngest handed her a bouquet of flowers outside the cathedral on the same day. Unfortunately, to pass the time while waiting, my daughter had picked all the heads off the flowers she was holding. In truth, she handed the queen a bunch of stalks and the photo made the Hereford Times.
“Thank you” said Her Royal Highness. “You’re welcome” said my 5 year old.
It will be difficult to process a new Britain, in our schools, in our church, in our remaining lives, without Queen Elizabeth as our nation’s rock of stability. She was inspirational at so many levels especially in the way she lived out her faith, day by day. A whole lifetime in service of the nation and true servant of the Lord. It is so sad to know that she has now left our shores, yet heartening to remember she awaits us with the Servant King and all those we loved on another.
A prayer on the death of Her Majesty The Queen
Gracious God, we give thanks
for the life of your servant Queen Elizabeth,
for her faith and her dedication to duty.
Bless our nation as we mourn her death
and may her example continue to inspire us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I hope you managed a restful summer, although I know the memory of it is already fading fast.
Hopefully you have already seen the resources on the CE website that support schools through the period of national mourning that began yesterday, as well as Mark’s video that is designed to be used in assembly. Do get in touch, if you need any support or have any questions about how to respond appropriately in school at this difficult time.
The Lord bless you and keep you in the days ahead, as we navigate though the next week in school.
God save the King.
Canon Andrew Teale
Diocesan Director of Education