THE ROSE OF WESTMINSTER
Church Army Evangelist, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, has a pioneering spirit: she is both the first woman and the first black person to serve as Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. Since 2007, Rose has also served as a chaplain to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, making her one of the few who are invited to officiate and preach at the 400-year-old Queen’s Chapel next to St James’s Palace. She has also been announced as the new Bishop of Dover!
Rose tells us about being born in Jamaica, becoming a Church Army Evangelist and priest, the racism and sexism she's encountered and sleepovers at Windsor Castle...
I was born and raised in Montego Bay, Jamaica. My family was definitely not rich – a pair of shoes had better last me the entire year! We were poor, we had nothing, but we were rich in the Lord.
Growing up, I was influenced by the older generation, especially older women, who had such a deep spirituality and strong faith. I knew about Church Army from a young age, thanks to their presence in Jamaica. When I was 14, I felt an overwhelming sense of being called by God.
At the age of 18, I left Jamaica to enrol in the Church Army Training College, and it was there that I met my husband, Ken, who was a year above me. Ken now works as a chaplain at HM Prison Wandsworth in London. We have three children, and we're also grandparents. I became a Church Army Evangelist at the age of 21. I was ordained as a priest in 1994, which was the very first year that the Church of England allowed female ordination.
I have quite a few things in common with Church Army Founder, Wilson Carlile: I am a Prebendary at St Paul’s Cathedral and Rector of St Mary at Hill – just like he was! Wilson was a courageous man who wasn’t scared to try something new by stepping out of the church to reach out to people and bring Jesus into their midst.
I have faced many obstacles in my life, especially racism and sexism. I’ve encountered a lot of people along my way who couldn’t see past a black face.
Rooting out racism and sexism
Every time this happened, I would think to myself: “It’s not my problem, it’s their problem, it’s their own short-sightedness.” I don’t see any walls in life that are impregnable. As it says in John 1:12: “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Sexism is still very much a problem to overcome, both within society at large and within the Church of England – look at how the Church allowed women to become bishops only recently! My prayer is that people stop labelling each other as different and recognise all that we share in common instead. We all have the same hopes and aspirations, each one of us is created in the image of God.
HM’s sleepover party, Windsor Castle
In 2008, I had the wonderful experience of being invited by Her Majesty for a sleepover over at Windsor Castle. There were about 10-12 guests and she managed to find something connected to each guest in her library – for me, she had found a document relating to the establishment of the Church of Jamaica, and we chatted about that. The fact that she went into so much detail for each guest was truly amazing. The Queen also showed us around Windsor Castle; she was the perfect host.
I am one of the Queen’s chaplains – she has several and we take turns preaching or leading services in her private chapels and generally being available to Her Majesty. She is such a lovely, humane person with a good sense of humour. She also has a deep faith, and I suspect it was her faith that sustained her through the tough times she’s had to face. It is an honour to speak at St James’s, but my preaching is always about how to challenge God’s people. I like to think that my preaching is uncompromising because it’s about finding out what God is saying to us about how we live, how we share our resources, and how we reflect his light.
Daily life at Westminster
My typical day begins between 5 am and 6 am. I start my day with a time of quiet reflection as once I’m out, it’s usually back-to-back appointments. Every Tuesday morning at 7:45 am, I lead the service at my church of St Mary at Hill before heading off to Westminster. My days are varied, I have meetings with both the new and long-standing MPs, attend receptions or conduct memorial services. It’s a long day – I typically finish between 10 or 11 pm – but I enjoy it. I also take part in about three or four speaking engagements a month, especially on the topic of faith and politics. My role as Speaker’s Chaplain is to give spiritual guidance to everyone here who requires it. Around 5,000 people – from cleaners and security guards to the MPs and staff members of both Houses of Parliament – all of them are welcome to knock on my door.
I lead daily prayers in the Chamber of the House as well as Holy Communion and Eucharistic services. My prayer for Parliament is that our MPs may have the courage to make laws not according to what’s popular, but because these laws are honourable, just and beneficial to the majority of the population.
As for me, I need to see where God tells me to go, where my soul will flourish and where I can do the most good. Ultimately, that’s what really interests me.
21 June 2019
Rose holds several roles at once as the Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons, vicar at Westminster Abbey and Chaplain to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Among Rose’s string of achievements, she has served as Chair at the Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns and the Worldwide Committee of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. In July 2015, Rose was awarded the Jamaica Cultural Alliance Trailblazer Award for her role in promoting Caribbean culture and history. She also participated in the closing ceremony of the 2015 Special Olympic World Games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, meeting several of the athletes, and led prayers at the Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in 2018.
Rose recently joined us at Church Army's National Gathering where we were delighted to be once again inspired by her talk on putting faith in to action. This interview with Rose originally appeared in the Winter 2015/Spring 2016 edition of Church Army's magazine Shareit! (now Catalyst) and has been adapted for the Church Army blog.
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