The Queen said "none of us can slow the passage of time" in a poignant speech today that was delivered by her son, Prince Edward.
In an address to the Church of England’s national assembly, the monarch described the Covid pandemic as a time “of anxiety, of grief, and of weariness” in a speech read on her behalf by the Earl of Wessex.
The Queen was due to appear in person at the Synod, but cancelled the appearance. She missed Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph last week, due to a sprained back.
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.
The General Synod is the national assembly of the Church of England which passes legislation.
Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, read his 95-year-old mother's speech to bishops and clergy at Church House, the Westminster headquarters of the Church of England. He praised the Church for offering “hope” during the pandemic.
Before the speech, he said the Queen sends her “sincere and deep apologies that she cannot be here today”.
Edward added: “I think you probably understand why, and she regrets that deeply.”
In the speech, the Queen paid tribute to her late husband Prince Philip, who died in April.
“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.
Via Prince Edward, the Queen also said “none of us can slow the passage of time”, and that "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 address celebrated the diversity of modern Britain, and praised people of all backgrounds.
“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", her speech said.
“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.”
It came after Edward, the Queen’s youngest son, attended an opening service at nearby Westminster Abbey, where the Archbishop of Canterbury lead prayers.
Tuesday's event was the first full in-person meeting of Synod since before the Covid 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, Justin Welby, told Edward the church “draws great comfort” from the Queen’s prayers.
Justin Welby added: “In turn, please be assured that she and all members of the Royal family remain firmly in our prayers, when that road is bumpy and when it is smooth, as we travel together.”
The Queen has cancelled a string of in-person appearances at events due to medical issues. This includes the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph, the COP26 climte summit, and an event in Northern Ireland to mark 100 years since the partition of the island.
Despite missing Tuesday's event at the Synod, 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.
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.