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Speakers recall Queen’s faith, love of Canada at national service

by Stuart Mann

A national memorial service in commemoration of Queen Elizabeth II was held at St. James Cathedral in Toronto on Sept. 20. The service was preceded by a 96-gun salute at Queen’s Park – one shot for each year of the late monarch’s life.

The Queen, who was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith, died on Sept. 8 after 70 years on the throne. She was succeeded by King Charles III. Her state funeral was held at Westminster Abbey in London, England on Sept. 19. A commemorative service was held at Christ Church Cathedral in Ottawa later the same day.

A book of condolences for the Queen in St. James Cathedral. Photos by Michael Hudson.

The Queen and the late Prince Philip visited and attended worship services at St. James Cathedral in 1997 and 2010. A book of condolences and a small exhibit of photos of the royal visits were set up in the cathedral after her death.

The service at the cathedral on Sept. 20 began with music and the burial sentences, sung by the cathedral’s choir. The congregation sang the national anthem, O Canada, and Bishop Andrew Asbil, Bishop of Toronto, speaking in English and French, welcomed those attending in person or via the live stream.

“The service that we participate in now allows us to touch our grief and sorrow,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to express our gratitude, and to lean into the future together in hope and prayer for our king, for the royal family, for the peoples of this land of Canada, for the Commonwealth and for the world.”

The Lieutenant-Governor’s Guard of Honour in front of the cathedral.

Dr. Olive Watahine Elm of the Oneida Nation of the Thames gave the opening prayer in Oneida, and then the Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the lieutenant-governor of Ontario, gave a reflection.

“During wars and depressions, global instability and uncertainty, and incessant change, she was a pillar of strength, adaptation and endurance, the embodiment of dignity and commitment to duty,” she said. “For more than 70 years, this was a woman who put duty beyond desire, service above self, and in doing so the Queen’s legacy may be measured by the extraordinary impact on the quality of our national character and the complexion of civic life in Canada.

“She loved this country, and perhaps never more so than when, in 1990, shortly after the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, she so graciously told Canadians, I’m not a a fairweather friend. I am with you in good times and bad. Canada has seen great days and we’re going to see many more in the future.

The Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, gives a reflection.

“Even until the very moment of her death, her steadfast example of duty was evident. One of her last acts was to send a message of comfort to the people of James Smith Cree Nation, Saskatchewan. And in Ontario, I granted royal assent in her name on the afternoon of Sept. 8, just minutes before Buckingham Palace announced that she had passed. So our collective respect, devotion and admiration for her were very well earned. How fortunate we have been.

“But perhaps the most eloquent of tributes are the memories that are intensely personal. This year, as I criss-crossed the province to celebrate Her Majesty’s jubilee, I was privileged to hear the stories enthusiastically told, the sights and photographs revisited, one generation telling the stories to another while planting trees and sharing tea – moments to cherish, making sure she would never be forgotten. She felt familial to us, and many of us, myself included, referred to her as being like their mother or grandmother. Whether connecting with world leaders, veterans who had served their countries, or young people just beginning their life journeys, it was her smile, her humour, her warmth and her curiosity that made each and every person feel as if they mattered. Kindness was simply in her DNA.

The choir of St. James Cathedral sings.

“For most of us, she has been the only sovereign we’ve known, a calm and enduring presence. In equal measure in time of challenge or celebration, she always found the words to inspire us. In offering hope and encouragement as we endured yet another year of a global pandemic, she reminded us that as dark as death can be, particularly for those suffering with grief, light and life are greater… She showed us that we must never give up in our quest for a world where fairness, security, opportunity and freedom mutually support and reinforce each other. Such wisdom, both in word and deed. Her humanity and human decency were ever present. And for that, we are grateful. Perhaps we might honour her best by following her example of a life of humility, constancy, civility and caring. May we commit to working together with open hearts and open minds as we celebrate her life.”

Premier Doug Ford read the first lesson, Wisdom 3:1-9, and Thanyehténhas (Nathan Brinklow) of the Turtle Clan from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, read the second lesson, Revelation, 21:1-7, in Mohawk.

In her homily, Archbishop Linda Nicholls, Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, spoke about the Queen’s deep and abiding faith. “Having been set apart for the work of a monarch, serving the people entrusted to her leadership, she was both unstinting and unwavering in commitments to its demands, even as she drew strength and grace from her Christian faith,” she said. “She reflected the life of the righteous described in the first reading from the Book of Wisdom: tried, tested, faithful. The author wrote, those who trust in God will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with Him in love because grace and mercy are upon his elect, and He watches over His holy ones.

Archbishop Linda Nicholls gives the homily.

“She was particularly open about her faith in her annual Christmas messages. In 2014, she said, for me the life of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and anchor in my life. A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek, to respect and value all people of whatever faiths or none.”

As she concluded her homily, Archbishop Nicholls thanked the Queen for her life of service and faith. “Some wished she used her role for particular causes or world concerns 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. 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. 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. May each of us live the vocation that lays before us in our time and place, inspired by her example, choosing well that which grounds us in hope and connects us deeply in community and service to one another.”

Bishop Andrew Asbil greets Toronto Mayor John Tory (right) and Premier Doug Ford after the service.

Prayers were said by the Most Rev. Greg Kerr-Wilson, Archbishop of Calgary and Metropolitan of Rupert’s Land, the Most Rev. Anne Germond, Archbishop of Algoma and Metropolitan of Ontario, the Rev. Dr. Robert Faris, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, the Rt. Rev. Nigel Shaw, Bishop Ordinary to the Canadian Forces, and the Most Rev. Dr. Lynne McNaughton, Archbishop of Kootenay and Metropolitan of British Columbia and Yukon.

The service concluded with piper Ian Goodtimes playing a lament and the congregation singing the royal anthem, God Save the King. Bishop Asbil gave the blessing.