What does one say when one gets an invitation from Buckingham Palace to meet the queen and to receive a gift?

“One accepts graciously, although I’m not certain what I’ve done to deserve anything,” Joe Cotterill says. “Apparently, my name was submitted by the Bishop of Oxford, but having said that, I really don’t know exactly why.”

Cotterill, who will be 96 on Monday, is humble about the honor that awaits him later this month in Oxford. (So much so, it was a Green Valley acquaintance who informed the newspaper, not him.)

Cotterill has been invited to meet Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Maundy Thursday services March 28 at Christ Church Cathedral, where she will distribute Maundy gifts. Every year at Easter the queen presents special tokens of gratitude to a select group of seniors in recognition of their service to church and community, awarding them what’s known as “Maundy money.”

Accompanying her Royal Highness will be Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; accompanying Joe will be his own princess (and wife), Joyce Ditmanson Cotterill.

The couple live in Green Valley about half the year and in England the remainder.

Maundy Thursday is the common name for Holy Thursday and marks the beginning of the three-day Easter celebration. Buckingham Palace invited 87 men and 87 women to receive the special coins.

The tradition of distributing “alms” to the needy or worthy on the Thursday of Holy Week dates back centuries and is an important annual event in the queen’s calendar. The sovereign also used to give food and clothing, and even washed the recipients’ feet, replicating Jesus washing his disciples’ feet and sharing his final meal with them at the Last Supper.  

“We can’t imagine the queen washing feet now, or Henry VIII for that matter, but maybe he did,” Joe said.

Fascinating past

 Joe worked as a chemist in Manchester, England, before moving to China as an Assemblies of God missionary in 1939, eventually teaching in a Bible college. Joyce was in Peking at the same time, the 14-year-old daughter of missionaries.

The Japanese had occupied China since 1937 and after Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the missionaries were sent to a determent camps for almost three years. Joyce and Joe eventually married others and started their new lives.

 Eventually returning to the UK, Joe was employed by a government organization that later became the Atomic Energy Authority, working until the late 1960s. Later he worked for the UK’s Home Office, retiring in 1977. He stayed on for another five years chairing committees, until 1982, before retiring again. Not 18 months later, he was called upon again to help with sorting Home Office paperwork and officially called it quits in 1990.

It was in the late 1960s that Joe became an Anglican and moved to a small English village, Kingston-Bagpuize in Oxfordshire. In 1993, he was ordained a vicar at the age of 70, when most vicars were looking to retire.

“This is my gift, as I don’t get paid for my services and I’m still at it,” he says. “Following Maundy Thursday, I am taking the Good Friday meditation as assistant vicar at Kingston-Bagpuize Church and I’ll do services a couple of times month from then on.”

Joyce and Joe married 11 years ago after their spouses passed away.

“I was living here and we had mini-reunions for those of us who spent time in the determent camps,” Joyce says. “We struck up a friendship and eventually got married after many years of being widowed.”

The ceremony

During the Maundy ceremony, a member of the queen’s guard carries the Maundy money in red and white leather purses on golden alms trays on their heads. The money in the red purse is in lieu of food and clothing. The white purse will contain uniquely minted Maundy Money of silver one, two, three and four penny pieces, the sum of which equals the queen’s age.

Since 1670, Maundy coins have remained almost unchanged, traditionally struck in sterling silver. The image of the queen on ordinary circulating coinage has undergone three changes, but Maundy coins still bear the same portrait of Her Majesty prepared for the first coins issued in 1953, the year of her coronation.

Regina Ford | 547-9740