25 February 2015
Pastor of politics
The job that the Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin does is a historic one. While sitting in the café below her parliamentary office in Westminster, we speak about her appointment in 2010. Critics questioned the appointment by the Speaker, the Rt Hon John Bercow MP, as an act of political correctness, but Rose thinks these people are "living in a different world".
"I have very little time for those who regularly shout political correctness. They're not living in the real world. The real world that I know is a multi-ethnic and multicultural world and I look to see all parts of society reflecting that." Currently, that's not the case in politics. Of the 650 members of parliament, just 142 are women, which is actually the highest number ever, but still makes up just 22 per cent of the House. In the other Chamber, there are 760 Lords eligible to sit. Only 192 are women. The number of ethnic minority MPs has increased, yet still only make four per cent of the Commons.
Rose said: "Britain is a multi-ethnic society. I would like to see that reflected in all walks of life, and also reflected here in parliament."
Her "Westminster parish" evidently consists of a strange bunch of parishioners, but how do her responsibilities differ from that of a 'normal' vicar?
"I lead the prayers in the Chamber every day when the House is sitting, as well as doing two Holy Communion services in the chapel each week." These daily prayers ask that MPs may "keep in mind their responsibility to seek to improve the condition of all mankind;so may your kingdom come and your name be hallowed".
Rose also carries out baptisms and weddings in the chapel for MPs, Lords, staff and their families. Most months there are a few, which she must prepare for. But it's not all marriage preparation and prayers, there's also pastoral work.
"People know where I am. They know my office is there and they don't need an appointment to see me. It is like having a parish. It is a parish –my Westminster parish."
We often hear there's a great divide between politics and faith, with the secularisation of public life. But Rose's reception in the House is encouraging: "I know some say MPs only come to the prayers to get their seat [in the Chamber] –on a Wednesday people might come in to get their seat for Prime Minister's Questions –but on other days of the week, when they don't need to save any seats, people still come in. People say to me: 'We like to have this quiet before things get rather raucous'. [The prayers] are valued."
And is there a threat to these Christian prayers' future? Rose doesn't think so. "Those who are anti-faith, or anti the Christian faith, in particular, are often vociferous, asking why we have prayers, as this is a public place. Well, why not?" Parliament, and the very fabric of this place, is built on a Christian heritage, the chaplain says.
"Those of us who come to it later and don't like it because it's not for us shouldn't say we shouldn't have it. I love that passage of scripture where Jesus said if the people didn't cry out, the rocks would still sing. Well if they don't like it, the fabric will praise God!"
And you can't separate faith from politics, anyway. "You see my take on the Christian faith is not about a holy huddle," Rose explains, "Locked away in a building with a pointed top. It's about a faith being lived out. If you look at the gospels –and even in the Old Testament –the focus is about people and their lives. Our Lord said: 'I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly'. If there's something in society that prevents people from having abundant life, then it should be challenged."
And challenge it she does. Rose is known for being straight-talking, despite living in the world of cautious politicians. "We should be looking after the widows, the orphans, the children. That's what my gospel is about. So I don't see faith as a separate entity to politics, for me it is intertwined."
Christians in the UK need to "get off the back seat", she urged. Not "grumbling about what is going wrong in their community", but actually endeavouring to put things right. "Christians shouldn't always blame government or political parties for not doing the things they want."
Nursing the spiritual health of our politicians is only part of Rose's life, though. She is also vicar of a church in Monument, London, and has a family. So how does she fit all this into her day? "Someone once said how do you do it all? I said: 'I don't think about it, because if I thought about it I would know that it's impossible. So I just wake up and do it.'"