With the death of Queen Elizabeth II at the center of this cultural moment for so many of us around the world, it’s worth taking a minute to reflect on her relationship to us as Episcopalians. Is there any reason for us to pay attention to news like that from across the pond?
First, some background. The Queen’s title was Supreme Governor of the Church of England, a role established at the beginning of the 16th century by Henry VIII during the Reformation that was spreading throughout Europe. The Protestant Reformation, in simple terms, was a backlash against the domineering influence of the hierarchical church in Rome. Martin Luther, among others, sought to return the church to the people by setting the Bible, not the sacraments or ecclesiology or some vague mystery, at the center of the Christian experience.
This wave of reform rolled through the Isle of Britain very differently, however. Instead of being a bottom-up movement, the entire church in England was “reassigned,” if you will, from allegiance to the Pope, to allegiance to the King Himself, a.k.a. The Supreme Governor, who just happened to be Henry VIII. There was a wobble around this after King Henry died, but under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I, the church in England became the establishment Church of England, and then of the British Empire.
That is how that church ended up in the United States. After the Revolutionary War, however, the name brand equity of Anglicanism, as our tradition became known, dropped precipitously in value, and so it was renamed by the adherents to the faith in the United States as The Episcopal Church, which basically means ‘the church with Bishops.’
So how is The Episcopal Church over here connected to the Anglican Communion over there? What makes a church an Anglican church is that we are recognized as such by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It’s a matter of naming and claiming. We are siblings because we’re recognized as such. Relationship is primary.
This Archbishop is the first amongst equals of all Anglican Archbishops, of which there are 77 around the world, and the authority that the Archbishop of Canterbury uniquely possesses is the power of invitation. This summer, 687 Bishops and Archbishops from the Anglican Communion worldwide were invited to the decennial Lambeth Conference. If you were invited to attend, then you are Anglican. Bishop Greg Rickel from the Diocese of Olympia was there, so it seems that we are still in the family, despite our many differences around the table. It’s almost as if to be Anglican is to belong more than it is to “believe.” Sound familiar?
Which brings us back to Queen Elizabeth II. The British monarch is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “boss,” in a way, and so, she (or he) is connected to us, whether we like it or not. We may not pledge our allegiance to the Queen (or King) anymore, but God has placed us in a relationship of spiritual kinship. Wherever we are on our spiritual journey as Episcopalians, we still have a place in the Anglican Communion.
That’s why we pay attention. That’s why we pray. Join me this Sunday as we include Elizabeth’s soul in our prayers.