Interview: Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Bishop of Dover

PUBLISHED: 12:12 07 July 2020 | UPDATED: 12:12 07 July 2020

A joyous Bishop Rose of Dover leaves St Paul's Cathedral after her consecration by the Archbishop of Canterbury (photo: Graham W Lacdao)

A joyous Bishop Rose of Dover leaves St Paul's Cathedral after her consecration by the Archbishop of Canterbury (photo: Graham W Lacdao)

The Bishop of Dover, Rose Hudson-Wilkin, MBE, on her pioneering career, the power of faith and why we should care for one another now more than ever

Rose Hudson-Wilkin got the call to ministry at the tender age of 14 and has continued on her God-led path ever since.

“I call myself a cradle Anglican because I was baptised into the Anglican church at three months and I’ve never been away from the Church. In my teenage years I clung to it more and more because I felt that this was where my hope was; there is a God who loves me and wow, I need to know more about this God. There was a hunger in me to explore more and to get closer to Him.”

It was that hunger that brought her to the UK at 18. “I felt that God was calling me to something that did not yet exist,” she tells me. “Back then there were no women priests, but what did exist was the Church Army, so I trained in lay evangelistic ministry. All our church army evangelists in Jamaica had trained in the UK, so that’s why I came here.”

The reality was a bit of a shock. “It was certainly not what I was expecting! It was cold, physically, and to a large extent people were also cold because they didn’t ‘do’ emotion – Jamaicans are very tactile, we like to talk and touch.”

However, it wasn’t all bad – Rose met her husband, a Geordie, at college and he followed her out to Jamaica, where they we got married. Eventually Ken wanted to come back to the UK, so they returned and have been here more than 30 years now. They have two daughters and a son.

Rose Hudson-Wilkin and her husband Ken Wilkin, a prison chaplain (photo: Graham W Lacdao)Rose Hudson-Wilkin and her husband Ken Wilkin, a prison chaplain (photo: Graham W Lacdao)

Rose has made a huge impact in her borrowed country. She was ordained a priest at Lichfield Cathedral on 23 April 1994 in the first few weeks that the Church of England allowed women to the priesthood. Then 25 years later, on 19 November 2019, she was consecrated a bishop by Archbishop Justin Welby at St Paul’s Cathedral, followed by her installation as Bishop of Dover during a service at Canterbury Cathedral at the end of that month. “They were two of the most memorable days in my life and in my spiritual journey.”

Does Rose – who has also been Chaplain to both the Queen and the Speaker of the House of Commons and led prayers at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle– get fed up being asked what it’s like to be the first black woman to become a Church of England bishop? She laughs.

“I never think about being black until it is said – I just get on with life. One of the wonderful things about being a Jamaican by birth is that Jamaican people know how to say ‘you belong.’

“If any person of Jamaican heritage achieves something, the whole nation celebrates, from the Prime Minister to the ordinary man and woman in the street.”

Bishop Rose of Dover and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Whelby at St Paul's Cathedral (photo: Graham W Lacdao)Bishop Rose of Dover and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Whelby at St Paul's Cathedral (photo: Graham W Lacdao)

Rose has certainly given her fellow countrymen plenty to celebrate and nearly 40 people from Jamaica and America flew in for her consecration. “I was on another planet during my consecration service. I wept. It was just unreal,” she says.

In the 2020 New Year Honours she was awarded an MBE for ‘services to young people and the Church.’ Rose was also listed in the 2020 Powerlist of the 100 most influential people in the UK of African/African-Caribbean descent. 2020 looked as if it was going to be a spectacular year. Then a pandemic struck.

What are the lessons we can learn from this extraordinary time ? “For me it is not that we have been struck, but how do we respond that is important,” Rose says. “The circumstances that surround a person are not important; what is important is how they respond to it.

“What we need to do is look out for the people in most need, the most vulnerable; those same people we disregarded as of little value so we paid them very little are literally saving our lives, looking after our wellbeing.

“The lesson we must take from this is how we treat the most vulnerable in our society and what kind of a society do we want to live in. Is greatness measured by how much wealth we have or by the way we care for one another?”

Describing herself as a ‘glass half full rather than a half empty sort of person’, it is no surprise to hear that Rose has most missed worshipping within the church fellowship. “I love to be able to interact with people and see the body language, that actual face-to-face contact,” she says.

What she won’t miss is “having to to do things digitally. It’s not my strong point, I’m a definite technophobe.” But she has relished the time lockdown has given her “just to call people and speak with them, both ordained and not; that’s been really precious.”

I for one cannot wait to meet in person this woman whose warmth shone out even via the sterile medium of a phone interview.

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