Most of us are familiar with national anthems regarding opening ceremonies or award presentations at sporting events. From football to Formula One, rugby to running, the fanfare of a band playing the winner’s national anthem, or introducing the national teams, reverberates around stadiums and tracks.
When it comes to the United Kingdom, we have options. When representing Great Britain or the United Kingdom, the standard “God Save the Queen” is used. Variations occur when it comes to nations within the United Kingdom; at a rugby match between Wales and England, the Welsh team will gustily sing along to “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” (“Land of My Fathers”). At the same time, England might chant “God Save the Queen” or “Jerusalem” (Jerusalem being an unofficial alternative at some England sports events instead of “God Save the Queen”). Scotland might sing “Flower of Scotland” and Northern Ireland specifically “God Save the Queen” or “Londonderry air.”
I don’t mean to give an exhaustive history of the United Kingdom’s national anthem, but “God Save the Queen” has gone through some variations in wording and notation over the last 300 years. Notably, though most will not remember, the wording is changed according to the gender of the monarch. My point of reference is to query the words, at least the first four words, though much of this song seems to be a petition to God. Just because a statement is made for “God Save the Queen” makes all the Queen does divinely attest?
I saw a history programme on television recently. I followed it up with some reading of a pledge that civilians in Germany during the Second World War were made to make, at least as part of their homeland conscription. I read of one young man, lined up with others in the town square who had been instructed to say these words, “I swear by Almighty God this holy oath that I surrender unconditional obedience and faithfulness to death to Adolf Hitler, the supreme commander of the armed forces and leader of the German realm and people. ”
Appealing to Almighty God for Him to save the Queen or offer unconditional obedience to a leader in an oath may seem commendable, but what happens when that leader fails to display godlike values and intentions? It’s like using God as a genie and asking Him to bless what you want to do rather than seek what He wants you to do.
In an article titled “7 leadership qualities of Queen Elizabeth II that make her stand out from the crowd”, Muneeb Siddiqui lists examples of her purported seven leadership qualities. I will leave you to read the article and draw your conclusions, but I just list the seven below:
3. Hard work
7. Embrace change
Four years before ascending the throne, aged 25, Princess Elizabeth addressed the nation on the radio on her 21st birthday. She said, “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” Though she was unique and some would say privileged, she anticipated that underlying her role as monarch was the expectation that her leading and influence would be displayed through service to others.
Even into her 90s, she put in 40 hours a week on international duty. She is the patron of more than 600 charities, public service organisations and military associations. She became a mechanic and driver for the auxiliary territorial service during World War II. A curiosity in people’s lives extends to embracing change, including the use of technology when she went against Winston Churchill’s advice and chose the medium of television rather than radio to broadcast her coronation ceremony. She was even the first head of state to send an email back in 1976.
Of course, we think of the Queen being on television on Christmas Day. On these occasions, she has been willing to express her faith in the God we ask to save our Queen. Her 1952 Christmas speech asked her subjects to “Pray for me… that God may give me wisdom and strength… that I may faithfully serve him and you…”.
Although steeped in tradition for hundreds of years, the pomp and ceremony of her coronation were not lost on her. The ceremony included an anointing with oil and a prayer that she be set apart as God’s servant. In 2000, her Christmas speech shared her personal face as a public servant seeking God’s leading. “For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. ”
Four times in her Christmas speeches, the Queen references Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (1985, 1989, 2004, 2020).
The national governance model has changed over the centuries, with the monarchy having less say and sway over national decisions. Still, the Queen has always seen her role as serving others through her influence. Bolsinger suggests that “leadership is mostly expressed in actions, relationships and responsibilities.” (p.21).
The national anthem’s line “long to reign over us” may be increasingly metaphoric, but her example will live on past her death. The Queen has led with servant leadership qualities, looking to improve others while never being afraid of expressing her faith. Whether you are a royalist or not, we can indeed all find this commendable in an era of muted Biblical values and spirituality.
May we all pray for our leaders, church, and government, just as God instructs us (“Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.” 1 Timothy 2:2 NLT).
Nathan Stickland is Pastor of Hemel Hempstead and St Albans Seventh-day Adventist Churches, and Area 7 Coordinator