Friday 18th April 2014
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are attending church this Easter, joining the congregation at Sydney’s St Andrew’s Cathedral.
The royal couple will sign the First Fleet Bible and Prayer Book as they leave the church on Easter Day. The books were originally the personal Bible and prayer book of Australia’s first chaplain, Richard Johnson, and are housed at St Philip’s Anglican in Sydney. They’ll be taken to St Andrew’s for the royal signing.
Minister of St Philip’s Church Hill, Justin Moffatt, said he invited the royal couple to sign the Bibles because the books belong to Australian history.
“Of all the books brought over on the First Fleet, these are, I believe, two of only three that have survived. And they’re books that tell the gospel, the story of Jesus Christ. I’d guess that the Duke and Duchess are happy to sign it because they understand that history.”
The books have been signed by Prince William’s parents, Charles and Diana, grandparents, the Queen and Duke of Prince Philip and great-grandparents, Albert who became King George VI and the Queen Mother, as well as a line-up of other royalty. “This is their family, in two books,” said Moffatt.
The only one to have signed the First Fleet Bible and Prayer Book as a monarch is Queen Elizabeth II in 1954. King Edward VIII and King George VI both signed the Bible and Prayer Book in visits to Australia before their coronations.
Unsure of whether the Duke and Duchess will bring their own pen to sign the Bible, Moffatt put out a call on Facebook this week for suggestions for an appropriately royal pen that could be used to mark the historical books. He’s organised a pair of expensive Waterman pens filled with archival ink to be ready to pull out of a nearby coat pocket should the royals need them.
While an important part of Australia’s history, Moffatt says Australians “aren’t scrambling” to see the books. And while there’s interest in them this week as the Duke and Duchess complete their Australian tour, he’s skeptical that the interest will last for long.
“When the Bible was first brought to Australia, Christianity was in some ways at the heart of the founding of the country, but in other ways it was very much at the periphery of people’s hearts,” says Moffatt.
“Johnson left Australia 12 years after he arrived on the First Fleet with these books, very sad and probably depressed because very few people actually responded to the gospel. And I wonder if we’re that different today.”
But Moffatt is hopeful that the image of the young couple getting up and going to church this Easter Sunday might encourage other Australians to do the same.
“It may be helpful for the gospel to see that,” he says. “But I don’t think these things have any real, lasting impact. The only lasting impact is the gospel of Jesus Christ applied by the power of the spirit.”
The Duke and Duchess will appear at St Andrew’s Cathedral on Easter Sunday. The church service starts at 10.30am.
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