Some things never change and, even when they do, they may change very slowly.
Journalists tend to focus on the quick, the loud, the, well, "newsy" things that happen in public life. Long, slow stories tend to drive editors a bit crazy.
That's one of the many reasons why important stories on the religion beat are hard to sell to editorial power brokers in the big offices in major newsrooms. Important stories about faith are often built on lots of observations about symbolic words and gestures, unfolding over time.
So kudos to The Guardian for its Christmas story about one of the quiet, but symbolic, moments on the calendar in England -- the Queen's annual Christmas address. The double-decker headline spells things out:
How the Queen – the ‘last Christian monarch’ -- has made faith her message
Over the 65 years of her annual Christmas broadcast, the Queen has begun to take a deliberate turn towards religion
Obviously, Elizabeth II is not your ordinary monarch. Her time on the throne has been extraordinarily long and, thus, she has seen stunning changes in her land and her people. It took patience to document how the content of her messages has been changing and what those changes say about her and these times. Here is the overture:
To the royal household, it is known as the QXB -- the Queen’s Christmas broadcast. To millions of people, it is still an essential feature of Christmas Day. To the Queen, her annual broadcast is the time when she speaks to the nation without the government scripting it. But in recent years, it has also become something else: a declaration of her Christian faith. As Britain has become more secular, the Queen’s messages have followed the opposite trajectory.
A survey of the broadcasts made during her 65-year reign reveals that for most of the time the Queen has spoken only in passing of the religious significance of Christmas. There have been references to presents linking contemporary Christmas to the three wise men, for instance, alongside trips to Commonwealth countries, family events such as weddings and funerals, and there were observations about contemporary society.
However, in 2014 she referred to her Christian faith as the "anchor in my life.” Then, last year, she added words that, on some street corners in today's multicultural England, could cause trouble. The Queen said:
“Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me see the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.”
The turning point in the content of the broadcasts was the millennium. Her broadcast in 2000 was devoted to an account of Christ’s life and teaching which, she said, “provide a framework in which I try to lead my life”.
This personal commentary has continued ever since. ... Indeed, Elizabeth II’s faith impresses the papacy today, so much that one senior Vatican official described her ... as “the last Christian monarch”.
Of course, people will speculate about who has influenced the Queen on this subject, perhaps pushing her to be more explicit about her faith. There may be some church politics involved in this, or it may simply be the passage of time and changes in her own life.
For the 91-year-old Queen, as well as her land, the clock is ticking.
The Guardian traces her religious comments back to the beginning. As the "supreme governor of the Church of England," her duties include prominent roles in many events linked to church life and the liturgical calendar. However, on those occasions she has little freedom to write her own script.
But it is the Christmas broadcast where the personal, as well as public, is evident. No government official is involved. Instead, those who cast an eye in advance over what she has written will be her private secretary, now Edward Young, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh. Lord Chartres, the recently retired bishop of London, has long been the go-to theological adviser to the royal family and is believed to proffer advice as well. Regular themes include forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion and, most often, service.
Lord Williams of Oystermouth, who, as Dr Rowan Williams, served as archbishop of Canterbury from 2002 to 2012, said that at times Lambeth Palace was consulted. “We were occasionally asked for any thoughts we might want to throw in.”
Last week, the BBC admitted that it has been reflecting a secular version of Britain and needs to do more to hold up a mirror to faith in Britain. According to Williams, the Queen has been bridging the divide. “I think that as there has been less overt Christian ‘messaging’ in the general cultural environment, the Queen has deliberately decided to fill the gap,” he said.
What happens next? The Prince of Wales once, memorably, said that hoped to serve as the "defender of faith" -- losing the important "the" in front of faith. The implication was that he would put less emphasis on Christianity -- defending faith in general -- and the Church of England, in particular.
However, The Guardian team noted:
The Prince of Wales has become more public in confessing his own faith in recent years. Last week, at a service for persecuted Syrian Christians, he said: “We must do what we can to support our fellow Christians.” It looks likely, then, that as king he will follow his mother and make his Christmas message a personal credo.
Read it all. I must admit that it is hard, after watching the calm and dignified address at the top of this post, to not compare it with, well, this: