Harris, Pelosi among leaders honoring the queen at National Cathedral

The official memorial of the late Queen Elizabeth II shifted to the United States on Wednesday, filling the Washington National Cathedral with black-clad ambassadors, military leaders from both sides of the ocean, three of the country’s most powerful political leaders and an Episcopal bishop, whose sermon the queen honored both as a historical figure and as simply one of “God’s children.”

Wednesday’s service in Northwest DC, after days of American commemorations — and debates — outside the British embassy and elsewhere, symbolized the deep religious ties between Britain and its former colony. The cathedral, which regularly hosts important political and social services, is also the seat of the American Episcopal Church, which began as a branch of the Church of England in the early 17th century.

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The British monarch is the “supreme governor” of the Church of England, although the position is only ceremonial and symbolic. The queen had none of the religious stature of, say, a pope, but she represented a life and death image of an enduring, peaceful faith, experts on the monarchy and the Church have said.

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Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, spoke Wednesday at a cathedral full of invited mourners, including Vice President Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), offered a sermon that brought together the Queen, Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison and gospel icon Mahalia Jackson. Curry, the denomination’s first African-American leader, avoided the debate over colonialism and instead stated that Elizabeth II’s legacy should reflect Jesus’ call that the way to live forever is to serve others.

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“We’re not just here to consume oxygen! … We’re here to give back! Back to the world! Can I have an “AMEN?” Curry, in his white-and-red robes, invited from the towering Canterbury Pulpit. “We gathered here this morning to thank God for the ways Her Majesty has served, often with personal sacrifice. Her dedication to serving others was a common refrain from commentators and people queuing, sometimes until 4 or 5 p.m. to pay their respects and say thanks.”

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The cavernous cathedral filled with applause.

Queen Elizabeth II became more open about her personal faith after the early 2000s, and Curry quoted her 2014 Christmas message saying that Jesus was a role model because “he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing.”

“The example of Christ,” said the Queen then, “teached me to strive for respect and appreciation for all people of whatever faith or no faith.”

Washington National Cathedral was founded in the early 1900s as the Westminster Abbey of America, a purpose that reflected the early elite status of the Episcopal Church. But church-state relations are very different in England, where the population is much more secular and the Church of England is the official state church, while the US Constitution prohibits the establishment of any religion by the government.

The Episcopal Church is now small compared to the power and size it held in the colonial period and in early America, representing just over 1 percent of the American population.

Those in attendance said Wednesday morning that they were affected in several ways by the Queen’s legacy.

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Bill Kelso, an archaeologist who discovered key aspects of Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in America, was in attendance on Wednesday wearing a blue cross, one of Britain’s highest honors given to citizens, signifying him if an “Honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British” Rich.” He had given the Queen a tour of Jamestown in 2007, calling her an “extraordinary role model of dedication” to pass on and protect what she inherited.

“She kept the legacy that was given to her that she thought was worth saving,” said Margaret Fowler, who accompanied Kelso. “The founding of America is a British story.”

Kelso said some of the Jamestown sites he has excavated contain the remains of clergy, and he was able to show some of that history to the Queen. She said nothing about her role with the church, he said, and she seemed to understand that the place was “where the British began to expand” and was interested in matters of a more secular nature.

Standing on duty next to a group of dozens of diplomats in black, LaVerne Adams said she was there to show some sort of respect for the Queen’s apparent pragmatism. Adams, a United Nations executive coach and peace ambassador, said her family is from Barbados, which formally severed ties with the Queen last November, ending 400 years of British rule.

“She was a figurehead and did well in her capacity,” Adams said. “This was her part – she couldn’t get out of it. She had a responsibility and she kept it.”

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But, remembering her parents and family growing up in Barbados, the birthplace of the British slave society, she said history should be fully remembered. That includes recognizing the way in which more harmless aspects of British culture are interwoven in former areas, along with the more gruesome parts of colonization.

“Americans may not get that: it’s something that just… is. You can be angry about it, but now we have to move on,” said Adams. “To me today is a day of reckoning: deciding that you can be divorced, but respectful.”

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The Rev. Gary Hall, who served as dean of the cathedral from 2012 to 2015, reflected on similar concerns on Wednesday, including what he called “one of those questions I’ve always had.”

In the Bible, “we use this language to talk about Christ as king,” Hall noted. “What does that mean in the 21st century? Kings are these useless goofballs who dress up but have no authority. What do we say?

“Everyone admired her personally,” he said of the Queen. “But how much we honor the living embodiment of a colonial enterprise is a swamp.”

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