Until this summer, I had lived all my life as a citizen of the United Kingdom without ever having seen HRH Queen Elizabeth II in the flesh. Now in the space of six months I have been in her presence three times. Seeing her in her robes, wearing her magnificent crown, surrounded by all her attendants and with all the trappings of her royal position at the State Opening of Parliament was the most impressive yet. It was a great royal occasion.
We were seated in the Royal Gallery for at least an hour and a half before the speech was actually delivered, but the arrival of various dignitaries, and the playing out of the great drama of preparation in the Palace of Westminster so that the monarch can be received with the appropriate protocol, kept us totally occupied. It was an event that was carefully scripted and orchestrated so that all traditions were respected and all requirements were met. We counted it an enormous honour to be present.
As well as being spectators in the Royal Gallery, we also had the opportunity to sit in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords to listen to their debates on the Queen’s Speech. We also were invited by the Speaker’s Chaplain, Reverend Robert Wright, to meet the Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr John Bercow. We were very honoured that he took time out in a very busy day to meet us and welcome us. The Speaker has a demanding role, not only in chairing the debates in the chamber, but in ensuring the smooth running of the business of the House. The Speaker’s House in the Palace of Westminster has to be one of the most beautiful locations in all of London, with magnificent views of the Thames.
Our visit was made possible by an invitation from our Northern Ireland DUP Members of Parliament, and especially by my local MP, Mr David Simpson. It was all coordinated by Margaret McKee, a Presbyterian who hails from Newry and who looks after the Whip’s Office for the DUP in Westminster. (Margaret is a cousin to my friend, Jim McKee, the manager of the Faith Mission Book and Coffee Shop in Portadown-well worth a visit for the coffee and scones.) Margaret did a wonderful job in making use of every moment available and ensuring that our day was spent profitably.
We had the opportunity to meet with our local DUP MPs over lunch, along with Lord Morrow, and the conversation was lively. Among other things, the MP for South Antrim, Rev William McCrea, recalled being present in First Presbyterian Church, Portadown in the late 1950s when Rev W P Nicholson was preaching. We discussed the possibility of a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the publication of the Authorised Version of the Bible in 2011. And, of course, we spent some time reflecting on the crisis with the Presbyterian Mutual Society. I was greatly encouraged to know that all our local representatives are committed to working energetically so that we see a successful resolution of this situation.
I had an opportunity to have a longer informal conversation with our local Minister of Finance, Mr Sammy Wilson, with regards to the PMS situation. It is clear that all our local officials are working very hard so that we might arrive a satisfactory settlement, but it is proving to be complex and difficult, and it is clear that the Minister is doing everything he can to help our cause. For that we are all most grateful. I continue to believe that this situation needs much prayer, and that the good efforts of our Stormont Executive Ministers as well as our Westminster MPs will eventually yield fruit.
The Speaker’s Chaplain gave me a copy of the prayers which are used at the opening of each sitting of the House. They are appropriate words for us to use at this time.
Lord, the God of righteousness and truth, grant to our Queen and her government, to members of Parliament and all in positions of responsibility, the guidance of your Spirit. May they never lead the nation wrongly through love of power, desire to please, or unworthy ideals; but laying aside all private interests and prejudices keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind; so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed. Amen.