The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe has told the congregation at a Platinum Jubilee Service in St Columb’s Cathedral that if they are truly to honour Her Majesty the Queen – both her constancy and her service – then they would seek to follow her example and put their faith in “the great reconciler” Jesus Christ.

Rt Rev Andrew Forster was addressing a congregation that included the Vice Lord Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Mr Ian Crowe MBE DL; Rt. Hon. Conor Burns MP, Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office; and Derry City and Strabane District Councillor Philip McKinney, who was representing the Mayor, Alderman Graham Warke.

The service was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, who was assisted by leading members of the four main churches in the city. The Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, the Moderator of the Presbytery of Derry and Donegal, Rev Graeme Orr, and the Minister of Carlisle Road Methodist Church, Rev John Montgomery read prayers during the service, while Bishop Forster preached the sermon. The readings were delivered by Mr Crowe and Cllr McKinney.

In his sermon, Bishop Andrew said footage of the new Queen Elizabeth arriving at London airport, in February 1952, after a flight from Nairobi, and being greeted on the runway by her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, seemed almost like another world. “Post-war rationing was still in place,” the Bishop said, “major cities across the country still bore the scars of bombing raids. It seems impossible to get our heads around the incredible changes in our world in those 70 years, changes that have been both exhilarating and, at times, bewildering.

“Over the last couple of days, there’ve been many, many tributes paid to the Queen. One of the words that keeps cropping up is ‘constant’ – the constancy of Her Majesty. And think about it. Look back on your own life, at all the changes that you’ve had, both good and bad, and the constant presence has been Queen Elizabeth.

“On her 21st birthday, when the young Princess Elizabeth dedicated herself to our service in these now famous words, she said: ‘I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.’ She then said, ‘God, help me to make good my vow.’ On the eve of her coronation, she asked: ‘Pray that God may give me wisdom and strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, and that I may faithfully serve Him and you all the days of my life.’

“If ever you needed evidence that God answers prayer, here we have it in the life of the Queen: her constant presence, her faithfulness, her dignity. And what has been the golden thread running throughout these 70 years? It is the golden thread of service to us and service to God: service that has made her the constant in our lives; service that has both inspired and humbled us; service that has profoundly benefitted the life of this nation and the Commonwealth; service that in her understated way has put both presidents and paupers at ease in her presence; service that has led us through times of great celebration and times of great hardship; service that has moved us and blessed us.”

Bishop Andrew recalled the Queen’s words to the nation on the 5th of April, 2020, two or three weeks into a lockdown none of us had ever experienced. “She said this: ‘We should take comfort that better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.’ I don’t in any way mean this to sound disrespectful but for me it seemed like she was like the nation’s grandmother, comforting us, helping us, guiding us and giving us hope in those dark days of the lockdown.”

The Platinum Jubilee may prove to be unique in history, the Bishop said. He remembered as a child celebrating the Silver Jubilee, at a street party in 1977. On that occasion, he said, the poet, Philip Larkin, penned these words: ‘In times when nothing stood but worsened, or grew strange, there was one constant good: she did not change.’

“One constant good,” Bishop Andrew repeated, “the constant life of service; the constant in our lives that we are thankful for tonight. But for her, there is one great constant in her life, her faith in Jesus Christ, the one whom Scripture tells us comes not to serve but to be served.

“The Queen speaks both beautifully and vividly about her faith in Christ. She uses words to speak of her faith, one of them being this little sentence: ‘I draw strength,’ she said, ‘from the message of hope in the Christian Gospel.’ But she speaks eloquently of that faith in her life of devoted service. For her, to be Queen has been a vocation – not simply a role, but a divine calling. Her faith has shaped her service and her life, and that remains an example for us all.

“And may I presume to say that her faith has also shaped the influence that she has brought to bear in this place that we call home, in Northern Ireland. The divisions of our society are sometimes obvious and at other times more subtle, but they are divisions that have blinded us and diminished each one of us. It seems to me that the Queen has given us an example of quite literally stretching out the hand of reconciliation.

“It is never an easy or simple thing to do, but perhaps she tells us why and how she does it. Her Christmas speech – 2007 she said this – ‘Mary and Joseph found no room in the inn. They had to make do with a stable and the new-born Jesus had to be laid in a manger. This was a family which had been shut out. Perhaps it was because of this early experience that throughout his ministry Jesus of Nazareth reached out and made friends with people whom others ignored or despised. It was in this way that he proclaimed his belief that in the end we are all brothers and sisters in one human family.’

“Every Christmas, I always think, she says it far better than any preacher can. A life rooted in faith and inspired by hope and inspired by the hope of Christ to build a better world.

“In her message to the people of Northern Ireland on the centenary of the foundation of Northern Ireland, she said these probing and searching words for each and every one of us. ‘It is clear that reconciliation, equality and mutual understanding cannot be taken for granted and will require sustained fortitude and commitment.

“If we are truly to honour Her Majesty the Queen – both her constancy and her service – then we will also seek to follow her example and, like her, put our faith in the one who is truly constant, the one who is the same yesterday, today and for ever, the one who comes to be a servant of us all, who is Jesus Christ – the great reconciler – whose ministry is the ministry of reconciliation, reconciling us to God through the cross; reconciling us to our neighbours and our friends and even to our enemies; the one who comes to transform and to bless.

“And on this Platinum Jubilee that we are all honoured to celebrate, today we look to the example of the Queen and we look to the one who has inspired that example, Jesus Christ. And I commend him to you, both as saviour and as friend. And as we seek to live out the example of Christ, we, too, can make the world, and even the place that we live in, a better, more hopeful, more loving, more gracious place, and we do it in the name of Christ. Amen.” 

During Friday evening’s service, Bishop Andrew dedicated a new kneeler, which was made by members of Templemore Mothers’ Union to mark the centenary. It took 11 of the women almost 70 hours – spread across nine day – to cross-stitch the kneeler. It was brought to the Cathedral by the Branch leader, Irene Hewitt, and presented to the Bishop by Church Warden Muriel Hamilton.