LONDON (AFP) — The UK’s non-Christian faiths and its Celtic languages will play a prominent role for the first time in a royal coronation when King Charles III is crowned next week, organizers said on Saturday.
The May 6 service at Westminster Abbey will be overwhelmingly drawn from the Christian liturgy as Charles takes an oath, in English, to serve as “Defender of the (Protestant) Faith” and to protect the established Church of England.
But in a first, it will also feature a prominent role for Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jewish leaders, according to the order of service released by the office of Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
At the end of the coronation, they will deliver a greeting in unison to Charles declaring that “as neighbors in faith, we acknowledge the value of public service”.
“We unite with people of all faiths and beliefs in thanksgiving, and in service with you for the common good,” they will say.
Members of the House of Lords from the minority faiths will hand non-Christian regalia to the king, such as gold bracelets and the royal robe.
Rishi Sunak, Britain’s first Hindu prime minister, will give a reading from the Bible at the service, which will also be attended by Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf, the first Muslim to hold the post and to lead a Western European government.
Charles is a committed Christian and, according to the memoir “Spare” by his younger son Prince Harry, prays every night.
But the king also has a lifelong interest in other religions and has spoken in the past about defending all faiths, not just Anglicanism, as Britain grew more multi-cultural.
Before his mother Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral in September last year, he held a reception at Buckingham Palace for faith leaders, and described himself as a “committed Anglican Christian”.
But he recognized that the country he inherited is very different from the one his mother did 70 years previously.
“I have always thought of Britain as a ‘community of communities’,” he said.
“That has led me to understand that the sovereign has an additional duty… to protect the diversity of our country, including by protecting the space for faith itself.”
In another coronation first, Charles will pray aloud during the service, to ask God that “I may be a blessing to all thy children, of every faith and conviction”.
He will also receive blessings from other Christian leaders, including from the Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Scottish Free Church denominations.
A Greek choir will sing as a tribute to his late father, Prince Philip, who was born on the island of Corfu. A Gospel choir will also perform.
Diversity in the coronation service will extend to a role for the English-speaking UK’s other native languages: Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic.
As heir, Charles was the first Prince of Wales in seven centuries to learn Welsh, which today counts nearly 540,000 speakers.
During the coronation, after a greeting and introduction by Welby, a prayer will be sung in Welsh. After the archbishop’s sermon, verses of a hymn will be sung in all three minority languages.
“The coronation is first and foremost an act of Christian worship,” said Welby, who leads the worldwide Anglican communion.
“At the same time, the service contains new elements that reflect the diversity of our contemporary society.
“I am delighted that the service will recognize and celebrate tradition, speaking to the great history of our nation, our customs, and those who came before us.”
In the 2021 census, some 27.5 million people, or 46.2 percent in England and Wales, described themselves as Christian, down 13.1 percentage points from 2011.
Those listing “no religion” rose by 12 points to 37.2 percent while Muslims stood at 3.9 million or 6.5 percent of the population, up from 4.9 percent.
The next most common responses were Hindu (1.0 million) and Sikh (524,000), while Buddhists overtook Jewish people (273,000 and 271,000 respectively).