The impact of the loss of a stay

A reflection and prayer from Rev Richard Frazer, Minister of Greyfriars Kirk, following the death of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh: 

'Today is a day that we knew must come, eventually. But I wonder how prepared we are for the generational shift that the passing of HRH Prince Philip heralds?

For most of us alive today, we have known nothing else but the Queen as our head of state, with Prince Philip at her side, as her ‘stay’. The impact of the loss of a stay is not lost on any of us who know anything about sailing. A stay may be a thin length of wire holding up the mast, but its function is indispensable, vital, in fact.

There is something about Prince Philip’s strength of character that lingers with me. The journalist, Andrew Marr, wrote a biography of the Queen on the occasion of her 60th Anniversary on the throne. He said that many people, when they come into the presence of the Queen, stand to attention. But the Queen, he wrote, has been standing to attention for 60 years.

As we know, the Queen vowed to be on duty for the rest of her life, standing to attention throughout the years; and we revere her for her resilience and profound sense of duty through so many changes and challenges. But as I begin to take in the impact of this loss of her stay, I realise that whatever our Queen has been for us, it has been that discreet, wiry, stay that has given the mast, who is our monarch, so much strength and kept her upright through many a storm.

So, tonight, I invite you to hold our Queen in your prayers. It has been for them a marriage of 73 years, a true companionship and we have all been enriched and strengthened by Prince Philip’s singular and unapologetic character. How good it is to have people in public life who don’t simply bend and shift at the whim of public opinion, or the first sign of disapproval, so you really don’t know where they stand. There is a consistency and steeliness in Prince Philip that, I feel sure we shall all miss. We always knew where he stood, at the side of our Queen, holding her upright and true.

In as much as the monarchy represents for us all some kind of expression of national identity, the loss of the support that Prince Philip represents is a loss for us all. We are all without that stay, which isn’t the mast, but which holds the mast in place.

Like countless thousands of people, I met Prince Philip. As I think back to the three occasions I was in his company, I think of the fuss I made and my nervous anxiety that preceded these meetings, which included on one occasion spending an entire weekend with the Royal Family at Balmoral.

Each time we chatted, I found he put me immediately at ease. He was never overbearing or self-important, just good fun and full of intriguing opinions and perspectives! He was always ready to speak his mind with humour and good grace. On one occasion, we had a lively discussion about the merits or otherwise of malt whisky, then settled to a dram together of Famous Grouse, a cheap blend that seemed to be sufficient as a night cap for both of us! That, after he and the Queen had cooked and served supper to a small gathering of us at log cabin half way up Lochnagar.       

There are many views about the monarchy and about the characters that make up our Royal Family. Prince Philip, himself, was someone who clearly made friends as well as enemies over the years. But, no–one can say that he was inconsistent. Indeed, perhaps the most profound thing that any will say of him as the many tributes pour in over the coming days, is that he was a ‘stay’, probably, indeed, the mainstay of that family.

We certainly mourn his loss, but we are also grateful that he has been a feature of all our lives for so long. How fortunate we have been.'

A Prayer on the passing of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh - 9 April 2021

Great Love, at this moment of loss for our Queen and Nation, we hold ourselves still in reflection, gratitude and concern.

Our lives are like journeys of adventure on the high seas. So many places to discover, so many people to meet, so much of your creative grandeur to enjoy. But, the oceans on which our ships sail are daunting and fickle. We need your protection, for our vessels are fragile. Hold us steady, therefore, when the storms of life assail us. 

Today, we give thanks for the life of Prince Philip, a master sea farer, whose active life of duty took him to so many places. Through those journeys and encounters, he became aware, before most, of the need to tend and conserve the majestic diversity of the earth against the danger of unfettered human appetites.

We give thanks for his vision that helped build a global movement of care and concern for protecting the diversity and beauty of the earth. His faith in your creative purpose, that spoke deeply to him of this good creation, reminds us of the role we all must play in tending and serving this majestic planet.

Today, we also give thanks for his life of service. Our Queen used the metaphor of a ship in describing her husband’s support. A ship has many parts to keep it steady and on course, and each one of us has our part to play. If she is the mast of the ship of state, then Philip was, in her words, her stay. We know that the mast can be rendered unstable should the stay be broken, so all hands must now rally round to keep the ship on course and offer love, protection and support to the mast, our head of state.

As we seek blessing and comfort on the Queen and her family, give us the grace to reflect how much work we still need to undertake to conserve the earth, to heal our nation and to build global communities of truer inclusiveness, peace and justice.

Through Christ we pray. Amen.

Richard Frazer