SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
Service of Commemoration – Address from the Dean
On Wednesday 14 April, a Service of Commemoration was held at Newcastle Cathedral for His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh. You can watch the full service, which was led by Bishop Christine and featured the Cathedral Choir, via our YouTube channel.
The Very Revd Geoff Miller, Dean of Newcastle, gave the following address:
I have to be honest and tell you that I approach this address with not a little apprehension. I do so for a number of fairly obvious reasons: not least, and of course, because of the nature of the event. Speaking at the commemoration of someone’s life is always a privilege though not an unusual task for a dean. Yet rarely is this so public an event and about a person whose life has been played out on such a worldwide stage. Already so many others have shared their memories, stories and reflections, all more knowledgeable and erudite than anything I can offer you. Over the last few days, many have spoken of Prince Philip’s long and steady sense of duty and service and above all his devotion to the Queen and his support for her. His enthusiastic engagement with life in all its fullness and with people of all shapes sizes and kinds. His sense of fun and that forthright manner often delivered with a twinkle in the eye.
I have only two personal connections to draw on and neither of them of any great insights let alone juicy details – a bronze Duke of Edinburgh award I undertook when I was 14 in 1970 which at least gives testimony to just how longstanding the scheme is and how it reached parts that well-intended ideas never usually manage to make. And then a fleeting presentation to a bemused Duke when I was part of the launch of the first ever Strategic Partnership of private, voluntary and public sectors which was in Darlington. With that credibility what more could I add to the hundreds of wise words about this man that we have heard.
But to be honest, perhaps the greatest apprehension is one of those off the cuff remarks of the Duke’s that probably really belongs to mythology. The story goes that attending church at Windsor as he listened to the Dean preach he whispered ‘That’s not a sermon it’s a general anaesthetic’. I dread to think what his judgement of me would have been so I thought it might be best to stick with his words and in thanks for his life rather than looking back turn our attention to the future, for it is there where his legacy will really matter.
Our reading tonight was from the very last book and of the scriptures Revelation. The Bible begins in a garden but it ends with the vision of a city. This small excerpt describes a vision of a new heaven and earth, a holy city in which people live without tears, or pain, mourning and death. God will dwell among his people and there will be harmony and the city will itself be a new Jerusalem, the eternal city of peace.
This is a vision that people of faith keep ever before them, a glorious horizon that provides the undertow to all we are and seek to build.
This would not have been a thought, idea or vision lost on the Duke.
So, it is no surprise that he did not need any help (or convincing) of the sacredness of all life and life in all its wonderful complexity. Long before talk of climate change and crisis, long before climate activists, Greenpeace and Greta Thunberg he declared:
“We depend on being part of the web of life, we depend on every other living thing on this planet, just as much as they depend on us. If we as humans have got this power of life and death, not just life and death but extinction and survival, we ought to exercise it with some sort of moral sense.“
This practical approach to the sacred was for him a driving force. No surprise then that he could be easily irritated and frustrated by inaction. He remained suspicious of those who withdrew too much into introspection or reflection. And yet with that same Dean Robin Woods whose sermon he criticised (and who became his great friend), he developed a thinktank for senior clergy and some of the greatest thinkers of their time – scientists, politicians, philosophers, activists but its emphasis would be (and still is) on making a real difference. You can hear his words of advice and maybe they should still echo in our ears today – I quote:
“What you lot need to do is to get off your backsides, get out into the world, and bloody well do something,” Philip tells them and us.
“Action is what defines us. Action, not suffering.”
Perhaps we may be uncovering a lasting legacy of this national servant. Of course, we know his devotion to the Queen and family, his deep commitment to duty and service but also this carrion call to action, action based on a moral framework of the interdependence of all life and a vision of a better earth: a new Jerusalem if you will.
Of course, with these thoughts, we can celebrate his practical approach to the profoundest things of life. We would be mistaken to approach his thinking as a rational reductionism. Rather his urging to us into action, his preference for the mechanics of things, the doing and the making, the real and the practical, also drove him to ponder the deeper things. His example should drive us not to simply dreaming of a better world, not simply to working for it too, but to believing it is possible. I’ll leave the last word to His Royal Highness:
“The solution to our problems, I think, is not in the ingenuity of the rocket, or the science or the technology or even the bravery. No, the solution is faith”
Bishop Christine’s reflection on the life of His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, can be found on our website, here.
We continue to pray for Her Majesty and the Royal Family, while at the same time, giving prayers of thanksgiving for his life, and for his service to our nation.