Alexandra Davis, Director of Marketing and Communications for Pilgrims' Friend Society, reflects on the extraordinary service of Prince Philip as an encouraging example for us
Following news of his death, there have been many reflections on the life of the Duke of Edinburgh. From his extraordinary journey out of Greece in an orange crate as an 18-month-old, to his 73 year-long marriage to the Queen, Prince Philip’s life was striking in both its length - he died just two months away from his 100th birthday - and accomplishments - not to mention some controversy. We can learn much about living life well to the very end from the Duke.
Most of us accept that there’s a natural point at which we’re allowed to take a seat and withdraw slightly from the world around us. Perhaps it’s retirement, or the point at which health and energy seems to be flagging. Of course, there is certainly a place for changing the way we connect with the world, but is there really a point at which we can justify not engaging at all? Prince Philip’s life is an extraordinary example of continual service and involvement in both private and public life.
After 65 years of public service, Prince Philip’s last solo engagement was in August 2017 at the age of 96. Last year he was photographed at his granddaughter Beatrice’s wedding and his final public appearance was last July when he handed over a military position to the Duchess of Cornwall. Of course, that’s just what we have seen in the media. The tributes from the royal family, including Prince William’s Instagram post, highlight the immeasurable impact of the private side of Prince Philip’s long life – serving his family faithfully, as well as the country.
Ultimately, on the Queen’s accession to the throne in 1952, Prince Philip became a servant – “liege man of life and limb” in public, her “main and stay” in private. Famously always two steps behind the Sovereign, his life was given to serving his wife and her duty as Queen. After living the majority of his life in public view and service, it’s perhaps fitting that the couple, married for 73 years, spent their last year together serving the nation quietly, enjoying time as a family without the usual glare of the public spotlight.
We are all called to serve, to love one another and seek the good of others, for example in Mark 9:35 it says: “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else”. There is no indication in the Bible that our calling to serve has a time limit, no point in our lives that we are absolved of the responsibility of loving one another, no ‘best by’ date on seeking the good of others. For anyone granted a long life, we always have an opportunity to reach out, whether in the public spaces of church or community, or in the private spaces of our homes or families.
We think service must mean doing things busily – running Sunday School, volunteering at a food bank, pastoral visits, or taking part in prayer meetings. In reality, service is giving of ourselves for the benefit of others and it may be the simplest of things: a note of encouragement written to your church leader or local school head; a prayer uttered in the quiet of night for the lonely, the weary, the troubled; a phone call to an old friend – or even a new one. This is still service.
In our care homes, older Christians often find these small, simple ways to serve. Over the last year, the prayers offered by those being protected within the Pilgrims’ Friend Society homes have been outward focused, as Jesus himself demonstrated during his time on earth. They have served us faithfully in prayer. At Easter, our Finborough Court care home was part of a village Easter egg hunt and residents waited at the windows to wave and cheer on the children and families as they passed by. This is the sweet, simple service of those whose time to organise the hunt or take part in it has come and gone, but their role as cheerleader is as important as ever.
Of course, the life of Prince Philip was a unique one and we shouldn’t compare our experience too closely to his. But we are called, given by God to a certain time, place and community, and we can look to the life and service of Prince Philip as a call to continue serving one another for as long as we can, in whatever way we can.
Louise Morse, writer and speaker for Pilgrims' Friend Society, was interviewed by Premier Christian Radio about how we can pray for the Queen at this time. You can listen to the interview here