This is a study of faith issues presented in the third episode season three of the Crown. It can be used as a group or individual study. If it is to be used by a group, it is recommended that group members screen the episode, answer the questions, and share answers via posts or however groups are meeting during the Coronavirus closure period. Descriptions and dialogue from the episode are included for those who are unable to view the program.
Season 3 Episode 3 “Aberfan” NETFLIX
Themes: The Incarnation: The Presence of God in Christ
Healing and Wholeness Through Congregational Worship.
Setting: October 1966 following a disaster in Aberfan Wales where 116 children and 28 adults were killed when, following heavy rains, a 30-foot wave of coal waste slid down surrounding hills and buried the Pantglas Junior School.
Background: The mining waste had been removed from mines above the town and collected into a 111 foot, pile or “Tip.” The tip contained 300,000 cubic yards of waste and had been a concern of the town for several years. The National Coal Board threatened Aberfan with the closure of the mine if the town of 8,000 continued to complain to the Board and Government.
Episode three depicts the Prime Minister (Jayson Watkins) visiting Aberfan the day of the disaster and the Queen’s husband, Prince Phillip (Tobias Menzies) visiting within the week. Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) however waited 8 days and public pressure to build before going to the town and consoling the families and community.
The Aberfan episode received criticism by depicting the Queen as one who could not empathize or become emotional in the midst of tragedy. The Queen’s initial absence in Aberfan, for whatever the reason, was felt by the residents of Aberfan as well as throughout the nation. Queen Elizabeth has stated that the delay is one of her greatest regrets as Queen.
In the episode, after she was pressed by Prime Minister Wilson “to go” to Aberfan, Queen Elizabeth stated the presence of the Sovereign paralyzes communities which she believed was the last thing Aberfan needed. When pressed further by Wilson, Elizabeth asked: “What precisely would you have me do?”
Wilson responds: “Well, comfort people.”
Elizabeth replies: “Put on a show? The Crown doesn’t do that.”
Wilson clarifies: “I didn’t say put on a show, I said comfort people.”
Elizabeth replies by silently dismissing the Prime Minister.
In the episode, as in the historical event, the eventual presence of the Queen had a strong and comforting effect on the people impacted by the disaster. Queen Elizabeth developed a close relationship with the people of Aberfan and has continued visiting throughout her reign.
Why was her presence, not her words or actions, the source of comfort?
Have you experienced a time or situation where the mere presence of someone was a source of comfort and strength?
Incarnation is from the Latin term incarnatio meaning “to enter into or become flesh.” In Christianity, the Incarnation is a doctrine that the pre-existent Son of God became human in Jesus. As with the doctrine of the Trinity, the word “incarnation” is not in scripture but is a doctrine developed from teaching throughout scripture, most explicitly in the Gospel of John, 1:1-18.
Think of a story or two in the New Testament where the presence of Jesus offered strength, hope, and comfort to the disciples and other followers.
How does the Incarnation, the belief that the pre-existent Word of God “became flesh and dwelled among us” John 1:14 offer comfort and strength during times of tragedy and trial?
John 1:14 is better interpreted “The Word became flesh and ‘pitched His tent (or tabernacle) among us. In Jesus, God lived with us as us, fully human and fully divine, living not separated from, but among His people. This presence of Christ is experienced primarily in two ways, through the Holy Spirit, and through the church, that is the Body of Christ. Consider and share how you have experienced or witnessed the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit whether in the midst of a trial, or joy?
Share how you have experienced the presence of Christ through the ministry of the Church.
Share a time when Christ was present through you, offering hope, strength, and care to someone struggling through a trial or crisis?
Have you experienced or witnessed Christ’s presence either through the Holy Spirit or through the Church during the Coronavirus Crisis?
TAKEAWAY: Offering care and support is first and foremost a matter of being present, rather than doing something.
- Healing and Wholeness Through Congregational Worship.
In writing and designing Aberfan, the producers sought to present the events of the Aberfan tragedy, the emotions and experiences of the town and family members as accurately as possible. The episode is starkly divided into the day before and 8 days following the disaster, and as such it tells the story in a way that feels more like a reliving, rather than a retelling of the tragedy.
Aberfan opens at the school the day before the disaster. Children are given their assignment for the next day and released to go home. Families are then depicted going about their routines of family life that are familiar to any family, thereby establishing an intimate connection with viewers. Many of the images of the disaster’s aftermath, including images and elements of the memorial service and burial, were replicated as closely as possible. (People from Aberfan including some present during the tragedy were extras in the episode. Counselors were provided during the production to work with people impacted by the loss. Even after 50 years, many had never discussed the events of the landslide.)
In the episode, Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) is present for the burial service of the majority of children killed in the disaster. The service included the following Scripture (KJV) readings: (Read the Scripture out loud)
Revelation 21:4 And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
Isaiah 40:11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
Zechariah 8:5 And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof.
Malachi 3:17 And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.
Revelation 7:1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth…..
And I Heard…. Then the Congregation began singing the Charles Wesley hymn Jesus, Lover of My Soul: (Sing the hymn or read out loud.)
Jesus, lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly,
while the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, till the storm of life is past;
safe into the haven guide; o receive my soul at last.
Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
leave, oh, leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.
All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;
cover my defenseless head with the shadow of Thy wing.
Thou, O Christ, art all I want; more than all in Thee I find;
raise the fallen, cheer the faint, heal the sick and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy name, I am all unrighteousness;
vile and full of sin I am, Thou art full of truth and grace.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found, grace to cover all my sin;
let the healing streams abound; Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;
spring Thou up within my heart, rise to all eternity.
What was your response to this scene?
What Scripture do you turn to for comfort and strength in times of trial?
Have you read Scripture for comfort and strength during the Coronavirus Crisis?
Upon his return from Aberfan, the Queen asked her husband how his visit went. Philip responded:
Extraordinary, the grief, the anger, at the government, the coal board, at God too. 81 Children were buried today: the rage on all the faces, behind, all the eyes. They didn’t smash things up. They didn’t fight in the streets.
Elizabeth: What did they do?
Philip: They sang, the whole community. It’s the most astonishing thing I ever heard.
Later Philip offers his reaction to the worship and singing in particular.
Philip: The fact is anyone who heard that hymn today would not just have wept, they would have been broken into a thousand tiny pieces.
Philip mentions the anger of the people at God. While anger at God is not justified, it is human, and God forgives us. Can you think of Scripture references where the people of God expressed anger or lament toward God?
Have you ever felt such anger? How did you experience or find peace with God?
Philip seemed surprised by the response of the town and families, singing in the midst of their pain and anger. What do you think of their response?
What do you think of Philip’s comment that those hearing the singing would be broken into a thousand tiny pieces?
How do this scene and congregational singing in general, reflect the truth of the incarnation?
Jesus, Lover of my Soul is considered one of the most influential of Charles Wesley’s hymns. There are several stories regarding the story behind his writing the original poem. As it was just after his justification, many scholars see it as Charles reflecting his salvation process, including the times when he faced peril, sailing through a dangerous storm during his return from a difficult mission in America as well as the times he was attacked and threatened by crowds who disagreed with his preaching.
Which verses or phrases of the hymn speak most to you.
Reading or hearing Scripture read can offer hope and comfort when one is anxious, wounded, or broken. For many, there is an added, perhaps more powerful dimension in congregational singing, in hearing or joining the voices of others, that powerfully restores wholeness in the midst of brokenness, and instills peace in the midst of worry.
Share a time if, in the midst of brokenness or fear, you have experienced healing, wholeness, or assurance.
What hymns or songs offer you healing and hope?
The song All Things Bright and Beautiful is very prominent in the episode. As with many schools in that time, it was sung frequently at the Pantglas Junior School in Aberfan. While adding to the poignancy of the episode, how do the lyrics speak to the nature of God? (Look up for additional verses)
All things bright and beautiful, All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful, The Lord God made them all.
Each little flower that opens, Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors, He made their tiny wings.
All things bright …
The purple-headed mountain, The river running by,
The sunset and the morning, That brightens up the sky;−
All things bright …
Share other thoughts and responses to this episode?
How do you experience the presence of Christ, and the peace that passes understanding when in His presence during these days of social upheaval and interruption in life?
Watch the closing credits sequence. The way the scene is lit emphasizes the shadows of the children of Aberfan playing on the school’s playground. With regards to presence, the image and sounds indicate not only that the children are present here, in our memories, but they are present with us and all the Communion of the Saints in the Kingdom of God.