Queen Elizabeth: A life lived in service

Canadian Anglicans this fall mourned the loss of Queen Elizabeth II, who died Sept. 8 at age 96. “She was the ideal constitutional monarch,” says Canon Michael Jackson, president of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada. “She set out to embody the values that unite us." PHOTO: REUTERS/CHRIS JACKSON
Published October 4, 2022

On Sept. 19, 11 days after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, two Canadian Anglican churches delivered gifts of condolence to the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace in London. John Fraser, the founder of the Institute for the Study of the Crown in Canada (ISCC), a monarchist group, presented two packages of sacred tobacco on behalf of the Mohawk and Mississauga first nations, who sent them from their chapels royal, the Mohawk Chapel near Brantford and the Massey Chapel at the University of Toronto, to be passed on to the Royal Family on the occasion of the Queen’s funeral.

Fraser had travelled to London to observe and comment on the procession of the Queen’s casket and the interment ceremony at St. George’s Chapel. But he says in many ways, the main event of his visit was delivering those gifts.

“It was important to these communities that they had this relationship with the Crown,” he told the Journal. “That was very moving.”

Both chapels have been designated as official chapels royal by the Crown of England as symbols of their respective first nations’ treaties and alliances with the British monarch. Mohawk Chapel was commissioned in the 18th century by Queen Anne, and Massey Chapel by Elizabeth herself on National Indigenous Peoples’ Day (June 21) 2017.

Fraser was just one of thousands who travelled to London to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II after her death on Sept. 8, which ended a record-setting 70-year reign on the throne. He described the time leading up to her funeral as “11 days of extraordinary spectacle, some of it deeply moving, some a bit raucous. The scene at Green Park where people would bring flowers and try and get a closer look at Buckingham Palace were like nothing I’ve ever experienced before—just in terms of numbers.”

In Toronto’s Cathedral Church of St. James, speaking to a congregation that included Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, gave the sermon at a memorial service for the queen on Sept. 20.

“Some wished she would have used her role and influence for particular world causes more. Others saw the wealth of the Royal Family. Others see no reason for a monarchy. It is a fragile institution, whose value is only proven by the people who inhabit it,” Nicholls said. “In Queen Elizabeth we had a woman born into its demands, who recognized the servant role it required and fulfilled it faithfully to the best of her ability.”

As supreme governor of the Church of England, Nicholls noted, the queen was not formally the head of the Anglican Church of Canada, but she was at the head of an institution whose heritage all provinces of the Anglican Communion share. She praised the queen for the sincerity and frankness with which she spoke about her faith and for embodying a Christian spirit of service that made each person she spoke to, from visiting heads of state to ordinary citizens, feel seen, heard and important.

“In the face of her death, we say thank you. Thank you for showing us a life lived in service, and in Christian witness, with grace, courage and resilience. Thank you for accepting the duty thrust upon you and embracing it with joy and care for all you served,” said Nicholls.

Canon Michael Jackson, the current president of the ISCC and an Anglican deacon at St. Paul’s in Regina, told the Journal the queen embodied ideals Canadians felt they shared.

“She was the ideal constitutional monarch,” Jackson says. “She never showed any bias in favor of one side or the other. She set out to embody the values that unite us rather than the divisions [of culture and nation].” Especially important was her role as monarch not just of England, he says, but of the Commonwealth realms, and therefore Canada. Elizabeth oversaw a shift in the role of British international influence, as the decolonization of the Empire gave way to the new idea of the Commonwealth—a group of independent nations Jackson described as uniting under the principles of rule of law, individual liberty and democracy, the values he believes Elizabeth stood for so well.

“She was a very staunch defender of the Commonwealth, I think the Commonwealth’s biggest booster,” he said. The queen, Jackson said, made a point of impartiality among the Commonwealth nations, taking care not to place the interests of any one nation above the group’s. For example, he cited the 1985 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, in which he said the queen sided with the broader Commonwealth in an effort to call for the release of Nelson Mandela and an end to South African apartheid despite conflicting input from the government of Great Britain.

As Canadians mourn Elizabeth’s death, Jackson said, “I hope the focus will be on the queen’s personal commitment and sense of duty to the realms of which she was sovereign—as a person of faith, as a person of great commitment to the peoples of the Commonwealth and the multicultural and multiracial ideals of the Commonwealth.”

Fraser added that he believes the queen had a special relationship with Canada among the other Commonwealth nations. “She made sure Canada knew it was number one of the overseas realms. It was the one she visited the most,” he said.

Over the course of her reign, the queen visited Canada 31 times, nearly twice as many times as her next-most frequented country, Australia—though she didn’t always have an “easy ride” here, he said. During a 1964 visit to Quebec, he recalled, police violently suppressed protesters who met Elizabeth with separatist slogans and rude songs. “But she weathered all that,” said Fraser, as she said she would in an often-quoted speech during her second visit in 1959, when she vowed to be more than a fair-weather friend to Canada.

“I’m not just here in good times, I’m here in all times,” she said.

In an interview before the memorial service at St. James Cathedral, Nicholls reflected on the strangeness of entering a new era that will be a first for many in the Commonwealth countries: one without Elizabeth II on the throne. “My entire life has been lived under the reign of Queen Elizabeth, I’ve only ever sung ‘God Save the Queen.’ And of course her picture was in every classroom.”

Still, she said, she believes that going forward, Anglicans can continue to draw on the qualities Elizabeth exemplified as titular head of the Church of England. “She was very clear that although … that is a particular church, it was there to serve as Jesus Christ served all people,” Nicholls said. “And there is an ethos of that that exists in the Anglican Church of Canada. That’s why so many Anglicans have served as chaplains in hospitals and in the military and in prisons. It’s why Anglicans have engaged in ecumenical and interfaith work for the common good of the whole community.”

As Elizabeth said in a speech to the Commonwealth on her 21st birthday, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and to the service of the great imperial family to which we all belong.”

It’s that spirit of service Nicholls urged Anglicans to learn and grow on.


  • Sean Frankling

    Sean Frankling’s experience includes newspaper reporting as well as writing for video and podcast media. He’s been chasing stories since his first co-op for Toronto’s Gleaner Community Press at age 19. He studied journalism at Carleton University and has written for the Toronto Star, WatchMojo and other outlets.

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