In the hunt for Harry and Meghan stories, the daily press missed something important. The annual Christmas broadcast was set around the King’s respect for his mother and footage was used to emphasise the roles of the ‘working’ members of the Royal Family. But a bigger story was hidden in his words.
What was notable was the way the King closed this first Christmas broadcast. He signalled his intention to lead a social change which will be significant and more meaningful than the pecking order in the Royal Family so dearly loved by the popular press. He signalled the passing of Christianity as the established faith of the nation.
Whether openly observed or not, the UK has always said that it is a Christian country. The late Queen was staunchly Christian but Charles has long been known to have a more all-embracing view of faith. It was clear from what he said that the title Defender of the Faith, carried by his predecessors and inherited from Henry VIII, is not one for which he has much regard.
In the broadcast, he referenced his own Christian background, talking about his visit to Bethlehem and describing the infant Jesus as “the light of the world.” This was traditional language, aimed at providing reassurance. Then he expanded on the theme of light “celebrated across the boundaries of faith and belief.” He talked about “life-giving light” shining on the humility of service to others, regardless of whether you have faith or belief, or none. “Therefore,” he said, “let us celebrate together and cherish it always.”
His closing words carefully expressed his personal wishes that everyone would have a Christmas of “peace, happiness and everlasting light.” There were no final Christian words of parting such as his mother might have used.
The King reached out in the most prominent way available to him to make the point that he wants to relate to all communities of faith and belief, he wants to be relevant to everyone, he wants to be inclusive in faith. He was saying something important that the press, obsessed about Harry and Meghan, could not see. But is every bit as big a story.
He was signalling his wish to de-couple the monarchy from the Anglican church to which it has been welded for nearly five centuries. This is not unexpected, but for it to be so clearly signposted so early in his reign indicates how important it is to him and suggests he wants to get on with it. He will respect and be at one with all who have faith or who have none, and who commit to the service of others. This is the commitment he feels he needs to make. The concept of service was illustrated by footage of close members of his family in a range of cultural situations, making the point that the self-interested have no role.
He was also making it explicit that other expressions of religion, or those with faith but no religion, are equal in his sight. We can expect to see that evidenced increasingly in state occasions. How he might move to support change to the established role of the Anglican church in public life we can only guess at but I would not be surprised to see an obvious change with the involvement of the leaders of other churches and faiths in his Coronation in May.