I well remember the excitement of my parents’ getting our first television set in 1953, specifically so that we could watch the Coronation. The screen was tiny and anything but flat, but the drama and the pageantry came through into our house. I had just become a choirboy at St Peter’s, Galashiels, our local Episcopal church, and I was mightily impressed by the choirs in Westminster Abbey. This Saturday, I am going to hear Peter Conte, our choirmaster, play some of that great English music on the mighty Wanamaker organ. Sixty years I have sung it or listened to it.
On Sunday, at St Clement’s, we will end the High Mass with the Te Deum by Stanford which was also one of the first bits of (for us!) “difficult” music we sang in St Peter’s. This will be because we always sing a Te Deum on Trinity Sunday, but this year it will be very specially dedicated to thanking God for the Queen in her office of Supreme Governor of the Church of England. In the congregation (how things come full circle!) will be the widow of Fr John Marshall, who was Rector of St Peter’s, Galashiels, when I was a teenager. Betty Marshall is visiting her granddaughter who lives here in Philadelphia. It is about 25 years since we last met, when I was Provost of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Inverness, and she and Fr John were living in Fortrose in the Black Isle.
Of course, the Queen is not Supreme Governor of the American Episcopal Church, just as she is not of the Scottish Episcopal Church. But our Episcopal heritage in America came in a double stream from both the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Church of England, and it is right that we should thank God for this at such a time as the Diamond Jubilee. Our Liturgy is in the language of the Prayer Book; much of our music is from the English Cathedral tradition; our Bishops derive their place in the Apostolic Succession from Scottish and English Bishops. It is right that we should thank God for this.
I have been visiting America since (improbable, but true!) I came to teach German at the summer school of Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College) in 1965. And from then on I told anyone who wanted my opinion (or even if they did not!) that I thought America was what Britain could have become if it had had the space to expand. And I still believe that, though now I see that every other immigrant group here could say the same thing about their own histories. I admire the breadth and openness of the real American experience, and am sad when I see some evidence that the old intolerances and snobberies and narrowness towards political and religious freedoms are creeping back.
I have loved my 47 years of visiting America and my eight years of living here But I have not changed my citizenship. In fact, I am not a citizen of any country, but a subject of her Majesty the Queen. I am still proud to be British, and thankful for Queen Elizabeth the Second (of England) and the first (of Scotland).