Airdrie-based clergyman Merle Doherty touched down in London, England on Sept. 9, as part of a team of crisis-trained chaplains who are being asked to help comfort Britons who are grieving the recent death of Queen Elizabeth II – the United Kingdom’s longest-serving monarch.
The long-serving Queen died at the age of 96 years old on Sept. 8, while receiving care at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland during a brief period of illness. The monarch reigned over the U.K. and served as the figurehead of Commonwealth countries, including Canada, for 70 years.
Doherty, chaplain and manager of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Rapid Response Team (a core group of volunteer chaplains who are crisis-trained to respond to disasters), said he and his team were invited to assist the U.K. Rapid Response team, an international branch of the organization.
“They invited us from Canada to come because how large of a response this is for them and because we’re part of the Commonwealth,” Doherty said, adding teams of chaplains were also invited from Australia and the U.S.
“It just felt not only are they appreciative of the assistance, but it just made sense from an international perspective and especially the two Commonwealth countries, Australia and Canada.”
According to Doherty, who is 61 years old, the death of the Queen is being felt deeply by the people of Britain and is acknowledged by many there to mark the “end of an era” for the nation.
“The Queen was queen for 70 years. There are very few people, even here in England, who remember the previous kings,” Doherty said.
“She was a deeply loved queen and so they truly are grieving the loss of their [monarch].”
The clergyman added that many people in other countries cannot understand fully the significance the Queen held to her people, serving as a constant figure in the nation and stirring pride in the heart of British people.
“In Canada, even though she was the queen of the Commonwealth, we don’t understand just what that means. She’s part of their country, their livelihood, really,” he added.
Doherty said the Rapid Response Team is witnessing residents grieving on a national level, but for some, the loss is personal.
“There are people for whom it is very, very personal,” he said, adding he is stationed at the gates of Buckingham Palace to offer both emotional and spiritual care to those who have arrived at the palace to mourn the loss.
He added chaplains have been deployed at Windsor Castle, Edinburgh, and will also be deployed at Westminster Hall on Sept. 14 while Queen Elizabeth “lays in state,” when her body will be laid in a public place of honour prior to her burial.
“Because we are a rapid and mobile [team], we are with the people in those places of grief where they’re coming to display their grief,” Doherty said, adding mourners and passersby are coming to pay their respects at the Queen’s former main residence, Buckingham Palace.
“We are there for those moments of grief and similar to the disasters we deploy to, the conversation may start about the Queen, but inevitably the conversations go to another grief they are also carrying at this time,” he added.
According to the chaplain, the national loss of their monarch has given Britons a chance to acknowledge other losses, giving them “permission to speak to their other grief,” such as the loss of a family member or beloved pet.
“It’s important for us chaplains to be there, because those are the moments where they’re willing to share the grief,” he said. “And if they’re willing to share the grief, [we] can minister to that spiritually and emotionally.”
The Canadian Rapid Response Team will be stationed across the pond until just after the Queen’s funeral on Sept. 19, according to Doherty.
Considering Billy Graham (the founder of the organization) and the Queen held a deep friendship since 1954, Doherty said it is an honour to represent the association abroad.
“I know she would love the fact that her good friend, Dr. Billy Graham sent his chaplains to help her people at the time after her death and she would never know anything about it,” he said.
Those interested in learning more about the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Rapid Response Team or for background information on the relationship between Billy Graham and the Queen, and the Queen’s statement of faith, are encouraged to visit the organization’s website, billygraham.ca
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