02 May 2011
by Chine Mbubaegbu
Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin sits in her office in the House of Commons as portraits of her 78 predecessors line the walls. None of them bear any resemblance to her. She is both the first woman and the first black person to have held the prestigious office of Speaker's Chaplain, providing a Christian ministry within the corridors of power.
The Speaker's Chaplain conducts the prayers for Parliament in the Chamber at the start of each day's business, takes Holy Communion in St Mary Undercroft, leads memorial services and performs marriages and baptisms.
"I have responsibility for the pastoral welfare of everyone in the Palace of Westminster, whether they be members of the Lords or the Commons, or a staff member," she says. "Six months into the role, I'm finding it fascinating and challenging, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it."
While Rose says she has been welcomed into the House, her appointment by Speaker John Bercow in June 2010 had initially caused some controversy as it was seen as a radical departure from tradition. "There may well have been those who were sceptical that the 79th chaplain is a woman and not only is she a woman, but she's also black. When you're in a place like this, the temptation to stick with tradition is very real.
"There's nothing negative about sticking to tradition, but sometimes we need to cast out into the deep, as our Lord says. Because you never quite know what you might get."
Rose, who continues to be vicar at the United Benefice of Holy Trinity with St Philip in the east end of London also faced opposition when she was first appointed to her parish. But for Rose, who was born and raised in Montego Bay, the colour of her skin has never been an issue, nor has she seen it as a barrier to fulfilling her purpose.
"I'm very comfortable in my skin and comfortable in who I am as God made me. I'm very fortunate to have grown up in the Caribbean," she reminisces. "When you grow up in a place like that, you see reflections of yourself in all walks of life: in politics, in medicine, in education. And when you see reflections of yourself when you are a child, you grow up knowing that you can become and be anything you want to be. There are no stumbling blocks or obstacles that you can't climb over."
So, growing up knowing that she could achieve anything she set her mind to, what led her to the clergy?
Rose - who is married with three children - says she felt a clear call from God on her life at the age of 14, having been raised in the Church. And the rest, as they say, is history. She was commissioned a Church Army Officer in 1982 before carrying out her theological training at Queens Theological College. By 1994 she had been ordained a priest and in 2007 she was appointed a chaplain to the Queen, making her one of just 36 religious leaders who are invited to officiate and preach occasionally at the Queen's Chapel beside St James' Palace.
Rose admits that on receiving a call from the bishop saying Her Majesty wanted to appoint her a Chaplain, she thought it must have been a joke.
Despite her achievements, Rose insists she "does not measure success in terms of those things".
"As we seek success or become successful, we sometimes forget the God who called us out of our Egypts and into our Promised Land. So I measure success in terms of how effective I am when I lead an act of worship," she says. "My mark of success is whether people I minister to are connecting with the gospel."
But how can people be connecting with the gospel in Parliament in an age where we're seeing an increasing separation between church and state, and the lines between the secular and the sacred are being reinforced? For Rose, her role as Speaker's Chaplain is a constant reminder of the country's Christian heritage.
"One of the reasons I applied for this post was that I feel very strongly that we are a Christian country," she says. "Although we're now a multi-faith society, it doesn't take away from our roots.
"I believe that one's faith should not be put in a box that only gets opened on a Sunday and then closed again. Faith is something you live every day. And if you live it every day and you're in this place every day, that faith ought to be expressed.
"Since faith is about life then it ought to be at the heart of politics since politics is also about life."
Commissioned a Church Army Officer in 1982
Ordained deacon in 1991
Ordained priest in 1994
Appointed chaplain to the Queen in 2007
Member of the General Synod of the Church of England
Former chair of the National Committee for Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns (CMEAC)
Former chair of the Worldwide Committee of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK)
Former member of the Broadcasting Standards Commission