Even in imperfection, Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has given her life in the service of her people and continues to stand, in her matchy-match outfits, as a symbol of a faithful woman of wisdom and strength, a true world leader.

The woman has a compelling story. Throughout her reign, she has navigated the breakneck speed of progress and change in almost every area of our society, from culture to religion to technology to politics, with calm courage and dignity. She has served alongside Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, overseen constitutional changes as the British Empire evolved into the Commonwealth. She has maintained an admirable flexibility and tolerance to change under intense public scrutiny. Her passionate but quiet commitment to her charitable work (she is the patron of more than 600 charities), her most admired personal characteristics, and her public choices often have their roots in her abiding faith.

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Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith seems an odd title in today’s pluralistic religious landscape, a bit out of step, exclusive by its wording. But recently, at Lambeth Palace, she shared her belief that her role as Defender of the Faith in these days “is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of all other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.”

“To have [a monarch] who has been a symbol, a sign of stability through all that period is really a rather exceptional gift,” said Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who will deliver a sermon later today during the four-day celebration. He also praised Queen Elizabeth’s ability to “help us as a society to keep our heads collectively, not to be panicked by change. She has very gently steered that cultural process in her own way.”

As Dr. Williams prepares to step down in December, the Queen will play a role in his successor’s appointment. As Molly Worthen noted recently, American Christians have a long-standing veneration for British theologians, writers, and thinkers, so it is likely that the new Archbishop will both quietly influence and outright impact many aspects of Protestant believers worldwide.

Nearly 80 percent of people in England said that the Queen still has an important faith role, a recent BBC poll found, while 73 percent said she should continue as supreme governor of the Church of England and keep the Defender of the Faith title first used by Henry VIII. Her Christmas broadcast last year preached the good news, she spoke openly of Jesus, about the power of forgiveness, from a place of intimacy.

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