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Posts Tagged "Courage and Fear":

King George VI: a Courageous Model for the CofE?

This photograph was taken immediately after the king’s Christmas broadcast in 1939. He looks wooden, almost rooted to the spot – still ‘petrified’ or turned into stone. He has just been through an ordeal, which he has undertaken because he believes it to be part of his duty as king, a role for which he was never prepared. The country has been through the turmoil of the abdication of his elder brother in 1936, and the then Duke of York  acceded to the thrones of seven countries (Australia, Canada, India, the Irish Free State, New Zealand, South Africa, and of course the United Kingdom) as: His Majesty George the Sixth, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India.

All this was thrust on a man who wanted nothing more than to live the life of an English country gentleman, far from the prying eyes of the media. One of the reasons for this desire to stay out of the limelight was, as anyone who saw the film ‘The King’s Speech‘ will know, that he had a debilitating stutter. However, the Fates, or some would say the Almighty, decreed otherwise, and then, heaping impossible task on impossible task, expected him to lead our country in a war against Germany. Three months after the declaration of war, George VI made a faultless broadcast to the nation which genuinely, together with the speeches of Winston Churchill, stiffened the resolve of his people to walk into the new year, not knowing what they would face except that it would be hard and painful, trusting only to God.

The archivist of St George’s Chapel, Windsor (Castle) throws a little further light on this broadcast:

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, “Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”. And he replied “Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than a light, and safer than a known way.”

This quotation from a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins may be found in St George’s Chapel, engraved on a panel on the gates to the George VI Memorial Chapel. ..

Minnie Louise Haskins was born on 12 May 1875 in Bitton, Gloucestershire. An academic by profession, she lectured in Social Sciences at the London School of Economics from 1919 to 1944, having previously served as a supervisor of women’s employment and industrial welfare in the First World War.  A keen amateur poet, she had her first collection of poems published in 1908 in an anthology called the ‘The Desert’. However, it was not until 1939, when King George VI quoted from ‘God knows’ in his Christmas Broadcast, that her verse came to public notice. Acting on the suggestion of Jean Allen from Bristol who alerted him to the poem, the King decided to include the quotation in his seasonal radio address to the Empire, to serve as a message of encouragement in the dark days at the start of the Second World War.

In the late 1960s, when a new side chapel was added to the north side of St George’s Chapel as a permanent resting place for George VI, the (by now famous) words were inscribed on a panel to the right of the iron gates.  A booklet written for the dedication of the memorial chapel on 31 March 1969 in the presence of his daughter, HM the Queen, offers an explanation for their inclusion: “These words meant much to him and he hoped that they would be remembered by all who dedicated themselves to the service of God and the nation.”

And the comparison with the Church of England on this cusp of the old and the new year, of the old and the new Cantuar?  Some may think this forced, but to me it is very real. We too know that we are on the verge of great upheaval, which can be summed up by the pressures to treat every human being as loved by God and worthy of respect, no matter what their gender or sexual orientation. But this is a tug of war, with counter-pressures to treat every human being in relation to their standing under the status quo ante. Part of the upheaval is a change of guard at the top, but we desperately need a Cantuar who can offer a new way of deciding on the future of the Church of England. Rebirth and renewal is painful, the process is painful, but the rewards are enormous.

Let us pray, inspired by George VI, the people of England at the onset of war and during the blitz, and Minnie Haskins :

Lord, we face the unknown at a difficult and painful time for our Church. Trusting in your word as a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path, we go out into the darkness. With faith that this will be better than a light, and safer than a known way, we put our hands into yours. Amen.

cf Psalm 119.105

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