Cambridge Regius Professor of Divinity and Dean of the Chapel Royal for the Church of Scotland, the Very Reverend Professor David Fergusson

In these days of mourning, much has rightly been made of the length of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, its historic moments, and distinctive characteristics.

As Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland, I have been privileged to add my own words of appreciation.

While the events that have punctuated her life have been recited, some constant features of this long reign have often gone unnoticed, especially those qualities that outlasted so many movements, trends, and fashions in our national life.

The Queen always turned up and stuck to the programme. This might seem easy with staff to organise and plan ahead, but it required a discipline to adhere steadfastly to a schedule that was demanded and often dictated by others. Looking forwards was also a characteristic attitude displayed by The Queen. It seems that she didn’t dwell long on the past or reflect nostalgically on what was once the case. There was an unsentimental focus on the task at hand.

Paying attention to other people was another hallmark of her long reign. Every teacher, health care worker or counter assistant knows how demanding this can be. We speak of ‘emotional labour’ – the effort involved in listening, reflecting, and responding in the right way to different needs, circumstances and personalities. The Queen gave her undivided attention, however briefly or however long, to those around her.

On the affairs of politics, The Queen always remained discreet. But on one matter she was anxious to tell us what she really thought. Since the turn of the millennium, she became increasingly explicit in her festive broadcasts on the significance of her faith. There was acknowledged a dependence on the grace of God to fulfil her work, a dependence that was strengthened by daily habits of devotion. And there was also an appeal to the example of Christ as a way of living. The theme of service was never far away from these reflections, nor was the sense that other faiths also stressed the importance of loving God and one’s neighbour above all else. A consciousness of divine vocation sustained her since she unexpectedly became heir to the throne after the abdication crisis of 1936; reaffirmed at her accession and coronation, this sense of calling has been a constant feature of her life and work.

I was appointed a chaplain to the Queen in 2015, becoming Dean of the Chapel Royal in Scotland from 2019, a position that I continue to occupy following my move to Cambridge last year. I met the Queen on various ceremonial and social occasions, and twice I was privileged to be her weekend guest at Balmoral when preaching at Crathie Kirk. In the numerous tributes paid to her over the past week, I can recognize the Queen I met. These form a coherent pattern in describing someone who invariably displayed kindness, determination, cheerfulness, and much practical wisdom. Perhaps more than any monarch since James VI took the road south to unite the crowns in 1603, the Queen has enjoyed a deep connection to the people and land of Scotland. There has been a fittingness about the peaceful end to her reign at Balmoral Castle.

The Chapel Royal in Scotland has been closely involved in the arrangements in the days immediately following her death. These have included the devotions at Balmoral led by her local parish minister, the successive nightly vigils at the Palace of Holyroodhouse and St Giles’s Cathedral, the service of thanksgiving, and her final departure for London. As Dean, I have been involved in the planning of these events, and I was honoured to be included in the party that accompanied the coffin on the RAF flight to Northolt. Driving through the streets and motorways of our two capital cities, we sensed the tides of emotion from the thousands of people of all ages who had gathered to show their respect and affection for our late Queen.

Very Revd Professor David Fergusson (Regius Professor of Divinity)

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