Church of England vicar Rev Jeremy Crossley reflects on why we crown and what the upcoming coronation reveals about King Charles III’s vocation and calling
Rev Jeremy Crossley is rector of St Margaret Lothbury, a church in the heart of the City of London. He serves as honorary chaplain to numerous livery companies in the city and has served as chaplain to the Lord Mayor of London. He shared some of his thoughts about the upcoming coronation during an interview with Ruth Jackson:
Over the last few weeks, whenever there has been a service for a particular group or livery company, there has always been a reference to the coronation and prayers for the King. On Thursday, which is the last working day for many people working in the city, we’re having an opportunity at lunchtime - there will be some coronation music being played by our organist, who learned to play the organ at Westminster Abbey. As a teenager and a young student, he was part of various royal occasions. And we’re going to dedicate a new flag for the coronation, which will fly from the church from Friday evening to celebrate the King’s accession.
There is also a national service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral the day after the coronation, which I will be involved in, and I imagine it will be absolutely packed. We were very struck when we had a service at St Paul’s Cathedral the day after the late Queen died. It was mainly filled by people under 35. There is a lot about the death of the late Queen and the coronation of the King that is counter intuitive in modern Britain. There’s something there that we can’t quite explain, but which definitely resonates with people in different ways.
Why a coronation?
I think the coronation goes to the heart of the whole issue because, of course, he became King the moment the late Queen died. He was officially proclaimed King at the Accession Council at St James’ Palace. And those who were assembled there that day, from all walks of life, all the Privy councillors who were there, affirmed that he is our true and rightful King.
I think the coronation is an indication that it’s more than a job and it’s more than something he is going to have to do. It’s a vocation and a privilege to which he is called, and the late Queen spoke a lot about that, particularly in her later years.
In the upcoming service at Westminster Abbey, we will pray for the King and reflect on the various elements - something about kingship, which isn’t time limited, but is bigger than the present time, bigger than the present circumstances and points us back to God’s early engagement with the people of Israel.
It is very interesting to think: why do we crown? And, of course, the service and many of the elements there are based on the Old Testament model of kingship. We look back to when Israel had a king in the Old Testament, how that king was found, proclaimed, anointed and shown to the people, all of those elements are there in the coronation. The recognition at the start of the service, the oaths taken, the anointing and then only after all of that, the investiture with the crown, the robes, the regalia, which will be brought to the King. And then, of course, that’s refined and sharpened by the kingship of Jesus, the reference to service as being the foundation of leadership, the allusion to sacrifice, which is necessary and faithful service.
I think the coronation says: “This isn’t a job to which you’re elected, this isn’t a job into which you’ve slipped. This is something much bigger than you, than us, than the present time.” And I think that’s worthy of celebration.
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Why an explicitly Christian service?
I completely understand the reservation of atheists and agnostics who don’t like the fact that the coronation is an explicitly Christian service. At one level, it makes no sense outside the profession of Christian faith. But it is, of course, the third element in the King taking over as King. And what I don’t think anyone really wants is a kind of dumbed down ceremonial that satisfies no one.
An atheist or agnostic will have been able, as we saw among those who were invited and opted, asked to be invited to the Accession Council – that was a non-religious service, where Charles was recognised as King, proclaimed as King. And after that happened in the Council, people signed it - people of all faiths and none - and among the Heralds, who then proclaimed him from the balcony of St James’ Palace, there would have been those with a deep personal faith, and those where a deep personal faith hasn’t been part of their lives.
So, this is almost the third element of him becoming our sovereign. And I think, in consultation with people of other faiths and people of none, they think there’s no point in having something which satisfies no one. And because it takes place, this time certainly, in Westminster Abbey and it’s the Archbishop of Canterbury’s service, it is an explicitly Christian service. Those in our ethnically and religiously diverse society have been given different roles, but not part as part of the religious element.
Because, of course, it’s not just a political appointment, there is a faith element to it. One of the King’s oaths is to defend the Protestant Christian religion. The other, I think, is the fact that he’s Supreme Governor of the Church of England. And this is very much the established Church, not the state Church saying: “This is an opportunity for you to say, as one element of your reign and responsibility, this is an opportunity for you to affirm that publicly in this ceremonial occasion.”
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Why Supreme Governor of the Church of England?
I don’t think King Charles III’s role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England is outdated, as some may argue. It doesn’t have the finest of backgrounds, because of its relationship with Henry VIII. But this is where we are. And in spite of, I think, King Charles being more sensitive than any previous monarch at their coronation to the diversity of the country, and probably as several people from different faiths have said recently, the one who already in his life is more intimately acquainted with the tenets and personalities of people with different faiths, he still has decided not to argue about taking an oath, as Defender of faith, but to be the Defender of the Christian faith.
I think it says that there is something at the heart of our national life, which is more than transient. There are some values, which aren’t just politically expedient, they’re inspired by the Christian faith of the monarch and many still in the country, and therefore has some value when it comes both to quality and continuity.
Rev Jeremy Crossley is rector of St Margaret Lothbury, a church in the heart of the City of London. He serves as honorary chaplain to numerous livery companies in the city and has served as chaplain to the Lord Mayor of London. This article is based on what he said during an interview with Ruth Jackson.