The Queen was the “most wonderful example of Christian life and Christian death”, the archbishop of Canterbury has said at a service commemorating the late sovereign.
As churches across the country said special prayers for the Queen and the new king on Sunday morning, Justin Welby said: “Her late Majesty taught us much, if not more, about God and grace, both in words and in the actions that reinforce them, than any other contemporary figure.
“We remember her not for what she had but what she gave. What a precious person … and how keenly we feel her loss.”
Welby was speaking at Canterbury Cathedral, following the practice that bishops must preside in their own cathedrals after the death of a sovereign.
The congregation – some dressed in black, others in denim, florals or bold patterns – was overwhelmingly middle-aged and older, although a smattering of small children occasionally punctuated the service with noise. “Please don’t feel awkward if your child cries, it doesn’t bother me and, on behalf of the rest of the congregation, I’m going to say it won’t bother them,” Welby said before embarking on his 15-minute sermon.
He said that as well as causing “raw, ragged” grief in the nation and across the world, the Queen’s death on Thursday will have reminded people of losses within their own families. For those who had recently lost loved ones, “their grief may well feel all the more painful during this time of national and international mourning”.
He said: “This time is being spoken of by many as a moment of uncertainty for the nation as a result of the passing of someone who felt like a near eternal point of stability. That fear relies for its strength on leaving God out of our thinking. Nothing is lost to God.”
In his sermon, Welby recalled occasions when he had witnessed the Queen and her son Charles, now the King, showing compassion to people they met. For both of them, he said, their faith was “built on the rock of Christ … There is room on that rock for every human being.”
The service ended with the congregation singing the national anthem.
Stephen Cottrell, the archbishop of York, told a congregation at York Minster that the nation had entered a period of “quiet waiting”.
The country was grieving as a family, he added. “It comes to us that we are the household of a nation and that we do belong to each other. And part of our grieving is to tell our stories and share our thoughts when someone who we have dearly loved dies.
“And hers was such a long life. And such a rich life, and such a long life of service. There is much to tell and much to remember.”
He said: “I can’t pretend I knew the Queen well, but I did, unlike most people, have the great pleasure and honour of meeting her on numerous occasions, and indeed on one occasion staying with her.
“And what I saw in her was simple Christian discipleship. She said her prayers, she went to church. She knew that she needed that anchor in her life in order to live her life well.”
Anglican churches that had muffled their bells as a sign of respect since the Queen’s death on Thursday briefly allowed them to ring fully on Sunday to celebrate Charles’s new reign.
The Church of England published special prayers to be said on Sunday. They included a family prayer to be said with children, which came under fire from some people on social media for being “embarrassing” and childish.
It read: “Loving God, our Queen has died and people are sad. Thank you for her long life and her care for her people. We pray for our new King. Bless and guide him as his reign begins. Amen.”