Queen says ‘service to others’ has been centre of her life in Maundy letter
The Royal Maundy is an ancient ceremony originating in the commandment Christ gave after washing the feet of his disciples the day before Good Friday.
The Queen has described how dedication to the “service of others” has been the cornerstone of her life, in a letter to community stalwarts.
The monarch has written to those she would have presented with symbolic money during the annual Royal Maundy service, but who instead have received the gift by post after the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Retired pensioners, who have supported the church and their local communities, are recommended by clergy of all denominations to receive Maundy money, and the Queen wrote to say the presentation is “one of my most rewarding duties as Sovereign”.
Among those who received Maundy money were 100-year-old Bill Allen, a former dispatch rider for Second World War General Montgomery and a Royal British Legion ambassador, who described receiving the gift as an “honour”.
Jane Armstrong, 76, was recognised for her work at her local church but she dedicated the award to all her fellow volunteers who gave up “so much of their time” to help the community.
She added: “To have gone to the service at Windsor, that would have been really lovely, but there is a virus outbreak and people are grieving all over the country.”
Thomas Brock, aged 101, was the oldest Maundy money recipient this year and it is claimed he is the oldest active bell-ringer in the world, having rung the bells at his local church, St Mary’s, Sunbury-on-Thames, since the age of seven.
The Queen said in her letter that “unfortunately” she was unable to distribute the money this year during the service which was due to be held at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
She added: “This ancient Christian ceremony, which reflects Jesus’s instruction to his disciples to love one another, is a call to the service of others, something that has been at the centre of my life. I believe it is a call to service for all of us.
“It is one of my most rewarding duties as Sovereign to observe this highly significant ceremony at such an important point in the Christian calendar.
“I know that you, as a recipient of this year’s Maundy Gift, will be as deeply disappointed as I am that it is not going ahead, while understanding the necessary decision in the current circumstances.
“However, this should not mean your invaluable contribution within the community goes unnoticed, and I am sending this Maundy Gift to thank you for your Christian service.
“My thoughts and prayers are with you and your families at this difficult time.”
Mr Allen, who received a telegram from the Queen to mark his 100th birthday on December 7 last year, said: “It’s been a real honour to receive this from the Queen, one of the highlights of my life to be recognised by Her Majesty. I’m only disappointed I didn’t get to meet her.”
The Second World War veteran, from Leyton in east London, visits schools to give talks to children about his war days and joked “I must be quite ancient to them”.
He added: “I was a dispatch rider for Montgomery when he was in Europe, that was his greatest time.
“Well of course we were never far from the front, and being a dispatch rider the enemy would love to get hold of you because you were carrying important messages – but I was very, very lucky.”
The great-grandfather joked about meeting the Duke and Duchess of Sussex during a remembrance service at Westminster Abbey last year, saying: “I had a chat with Harry and had my photograph taken with him and then Meghan came along and gave me a hug and a kiss.
“How many people can say they’ve been hugged and kissed by a princess, what a wonderful lady.”
During the service, the Queen would have distributed Maundy money to 94 men and 94 women – as she will be 94 this year, celebrating her birthday on April 21.
But the money was posted instead, due to the Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing instructions, with recipients receiving two purses, one red and one white.
The white purse is filled with uniquely minted Maundy money – silver one, two, three and four penny pieces – to the value of 94 pence.
In the red pouch is a £5 coin, this year marking the 250th anniversary of the birth of poet William Wordsworth, and a 50 pence piece recognising the Great Britain Olympic Team.
The Royal Maundy is an ancient ceremony which originated in the commandment Christ gave after washing the feet of his disciples the day before Good Friday.
Mrs Armstrong, a former teacher from Bishop Auckland, has been volunteering at her local church for more than 50 years, working in various roles, moving from family support and running the youth club to more pastoral work with older parishioners and other positions.
She said: “I’ve spent most of my life working at Woodhouse Close Church in Bishop Auckland alongside many, many volunteers who give so much of their time so that our church can be open all day every day to help the community.
“This honour is for them as well as for me.”
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