At a reception with nine leaders representing different religious groups in Great Britain, Queen Elizabeth II spoke about the importance of faith and the role of the Church of England in a culture where all religion are free to express themselves.
Your Grace, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Prince Philip and I are delighted to be with you today to pay tribute to the particular mission of Christianity and the general value of faith in this country.
This gathering is a reminder of how much we owe the nine major religious traditions represented here. They are sources of a rich cultural heritage and have given rise to beautiful sacred objects and holy texts, as we have seen today.
Yet these traditions are also contemporary families of faith. Our religions provide critical guidance for the way we live our lives, and for the way in which we treat each other. Many of the values and ideas we take for granted in this and other countries originate in the ancient wisdom of our traditions. Even the concept of a Jubilee is rooted in the Bible.
Here at Lambeth Palace we should remind ourselves of the significant position of the Church of England in our nation’s life. The concept of our established Church is occasionally misunderstood and, I believe, commonly under-appreciated. Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.
It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.
This occasion is thus an opportunity to reflect on the importance of faith in creating and sustaining communities all over the United Kingdom. Faith plays a key role in the identity of many millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action. Indeed, religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need, including the sick, the elderly, the lonely and the disadvantaged. They remind us of the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said before her speech that the Queen has shown that being religious is “not eccentric or abnormal”.
Referring to her, he said: “Thus you have been able to show so effectively that being religious is not eccentric or abnormal in terms of the kind of society we claim to be. On the contrary, if we take seriously the way our constitution works, the United Kingdom is a society where we might expect people to grasp the importance of symbols and traditions, not as a sign of mere conservatism or nostalgia but as a sign of what holds us together, what commits us to each other.”