The Queen has described the coronavirus pandemic as a period “of anxiety, of grief, and of weariness”, in a message delivered by her youngest son.
In the message Prince Edward read on his mother’s behalf, the Queen, whose husband died seven months ago, made reference to the late Duke of Edinburgh and said “none of us can slow the passage of time”.
“It is hard to believe that it is over 50 years since Prince Philip and I attended the very first meeting of the General Synod,” her address said.
“None of us can slow the passage of time and while we often focus on all that has changed in the intervening years, much remains unchanged, including the Gospel of Christ and his teachings.”
The Earl of Wessex read the message to bishops at the Church of England’s national assembly where the Queen was due to appear in person.
But after missing the Remembrance Sunday service at the weekend, Her Majesty, who has been under doctors’ orders to rest for nearly a month, saw her appearance at the Synod cancelled.
Clergy at Church House, the Westminster headquarters of the Church of England, praised the institution for offering “hope” during the pandemic.
Before the speech, Edward said the Queen sends her “sincere and deep apologies that she cannot be here today”.
“I think you probably understand why, and she regrets that deeply,” he said.
It is the first time the monarch, who is Supreme Governor of the church, has missed her five-yearly visit to the Synod in its 51-year history.
Edward added on the Queen’s behalf: “Of course, in our richly diverse modern society, the well-being of the nation depends on the contribution of people of all faiths, and of none.
“But for people of faith, the last few years have been particularly hard, with unprecedented restrictions in accessing the comfort and reassurance of public worship.
“For many, it has been a time of anxiety, of grief, and of weariness.
“Yet the Gospel has brought hope, as it has done throughout the ages; and the Church has adapted and continued its ministry, often in new ways, such as digital forms of worship.”
The General Synod is the national assembly of the Church of England which passes legislation.
It was the first full in-person meeting of Synod since February 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic.
The 11th Synod was elected earlier this autumn for a five-year term, and will meet two or three times a year.
Members will discuss national issues including the gap between rich and poor in the UK as well as work to develop a new strategy for the Church of England, as part of the agenda in two days of speeches and debates.
In her speech, the Queen reminded the church of its “weighty responsibilities” in making “difficult decisions” about the future of the church.
Edward added: “In some areas, there will, of course, be differing views and my hope is that you will be strengthened with the certainty of the love of God, as you work together and draw on the Church’s tradition of unity in fellowship for the tasks ahead.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury told Edward the church “draws great comfort” from the Queen’s prayers.
She is due to carry out virtual audiences later this week, but has no major public engagements planned for the rest of the year.
Concern for her health has increased given her age and due to the number of major engagements she has missed in recent weeks.
The monarch cancelled a two-day trip to Northern Ireland, and pulled out of attending the Cop26 climate change summit, the Festival of Remembrance, Remembrance Sunday and the Synod.
Saturday marks the Queen and Philip’s first wedding anniversary to pass since he died in April aged 99.
The Queen and the duke would have celebrated 74 years of marriage.