The Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin is the 79th Commons Chaplain and the first ever woman to hold this role in over 350 years.
Charismatic and frank (‘with lots of ambition – you can’t be Jamaican and not be ambitious!’) – Reverend Rose talks to First Women about risk-taking, the importance of crying and how to eloquently tell someone when they are being ‘difficult’…
All things are possible – take a risk
‘My faith taught me this. I have been asked to do things that fill me with trepidation but there is also a curiosity – can I do this…? And I say to myself – ‘yes! Rose, you can do this! You go girl!’ Its probably natural for me to move towards fear, as I hate to feel that there is a barrier between me and a thing. I hate thinking, ‘ooh, maybe I could have if I had just said ‘yes.’
I think of Our Father, Jesus Christ – his mother Mary said yes – and look what happened!’
‘The older generation had a way of not allowing adversity to disturb their spirit. Whatever happened, life went on.
Singing helps me keep my spirit undisturbed. I walk along the street singing and suddenly realise, ‘oh gosh Rose, you’re singing out loud again!’
Affirmation from family and friends is very important
‘I felt loved unconditionally by my adoptive parents. They smiled at me, they hugged me, they told me I was wonderful. They affirmed me. Before that I didn’t know I was even loveable.
It is fundamental to have good, critical friends along the journey. If they tell you home truths it is because they want improvement for you. I watch the X-Factor and I think ‘gosh, didn’t they have a good friend to tell them not to do that before they embarrassed themselves that way?!’
Let go of negative friends
‘Check in with yourself when someone gives you feedback. Learn to discern whether what is being said is coming from genuine roots. How do I let go of negative people? I explain as kindly as I can that what they are saying and how they are behaving leaves me feeling deeply uncomfortable and that I need distance from it.
No blame. It allows them the chance to go away and reflect on how they present feedback.’
God gave us tear-ducts for a reason.
‘If I get frustrated, I cry in private. Tears are our prayers -even if we are not on our knees. I don’t care what anyone says about tears, they show connection. And I tell my children that if they are upset not to give their tormentors the privilege of seeing their tears. They must not see your tears, I say.’
The circumstances that surround you are not important…
‘…What is important is how you respond to those circumstances.
One must respond with integrity to resistance and unkindness. For me, others do not and will not determine how I behave in turn.’
When it comes to your calling or being an inspiration, not doing well is not an option.
‘I am a black woman. Black people are not celebrated.
If we find ourselves in leadership our kids need to see us succeed as it is the only way they will know that they can. This inspires me to succeed better than any other pressure ever could.’
Being a woman brings with it a certain empathy
‘Its not that men don’t have empathy – but they are less allowed to express it. Society accepts it from women more readily. That’s what benefits women in men’s roles. For men? I suppose their bonus is the Old Boys Club…’
I have forged a path – and it does bring responsibility
‘As a first woman, I have to succeed because if I mess it up, they’ll say, ‘right – obviously a woman cannot do this job,’ and just hire another man. If a man messes up? They’ll just choose a better man.’
You don’t just break new ground as a woman once – you have to break it over and over again
‘And it can get wearisome. But it is necessary every time you interact with the people that have been doing it the old way a long time. And you have to dig deep within yourself to touch spirit and not be negatively affected.’
Just because you are ready to tell someone that they are an‘obstacle’, it doesn’t mean that they are ready to hear it
‘You have to find the right way to hold up the mirror.
Sometimes all you can do is withdraw. And when they ask why you have withdrawn, tell them its what’s best for your sanity and deliver it that way!’
Self-awareness is very important
‘Always be honest with yourself – or you’re in trouble.’
Reverend Rose Hudson Wilkin is the First Woman Speaker’s Chaplain to the House of Commons since 1660
Interview by Deborah Willimott