Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin has a habit of making history.
Hudson-Wilkin has overcome poverty, racism, sexism, and tradition to become a high-profile minister, trailblazer, and advocate. Born into poverty in Montego Bay, Jamaica, Hudson-Wilkin was raised by her father and aunt in Jamaica, but eventually moved to the UK where she pursued a career as a minister. Some highlights of her ministry include:
- In 1994, the first year the Church of England ordained women to the priesthood, she was ordained.
- In 2000, she became the priest of a parish in Hackney (an impoverished area of inner-city London). She was the first woman and the first person of color to lead this parish.
- In 2007, she became chaplain to the Queen of England. She is the first woman of color to hold this position.
- In 2010, she became chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. And, as you may have guessed, she was the first black woman to hold this role as well.
If this weren’t enough, while she took on her roles as the chaplain to the Queen of England and to the House of Commons, she continued in her role as a parish priest in Hackney and raised three children with her husband, who is also a priest.
Upon taking over her parish in Hackney, Hudson-Wilkin gained national attention when she sat on the rooftop of her church for 24 hours, trying to bring attention to the plight of the church, which had a leaky roof and desperately needed repairs, but was ignored even as new development sprung up around the neighborhood. Her bold and blunt leadership and advocacy for her church and her neighborhood have won over those in her parish, some of whom were skeptical that a woman of color could lead well.
She’s ruffled feathers in government as well. In 2010, on International Women’s Day, she offended some lawmakers by updating a centuries-old prayer to uplift and thank God for the women in Parliament, something she deemed “perfectly appropriate.” Unbothered by the objections of some, she offered no apology. “That’s OK,” she said. “They are allowed not to [approve of the prayer]. But you know, the thing with prayers is that it can be extremely personal and some people may object to certain things said or how it is said—but that’s life, isn’t it? It absolutely won’t put me off. That’s my role.”
As controversy has surrounded her various roles and appointments, she has spoken matter-of-factly about racism and sexism, stating that being a woman, she has to be “twice as good as a man; and being black, three or four times as good as a white person.” In a 2014 radio interview, she characterized objections to welcoming women and minorities into certain roles as unfounded, and a disturbing fact of life for “myself and for women and for many people of color throughout the world.” Yet, she continued, “there are those [in whom] this is ingrained because this is how they were brought up. They were taught that, and it’s not easy to un-teach yourself something. And so, you have to respond with a level of generosity and love.”
Hudson-Wilkin has been a vocal supporter of women in the church, as well. She has been an outspoken proponent of female bishops, and contributed to the momentum that culminated in the Church of England’s 2014 vote to open the role of bishop to women. Thanks to the efforts of Hudson-Wilkin and others like her, this past January the Right Reverend Libby Lane became the first woman to be appointed a bishop in the Church of England, and it was recently announced that Rev. Cannon Alison White will be the second.
Prior to the vote, Hudson-Wilkin made her position on the issue clear, stating in typical fashion that “I believe that we hold certain prejudices about certain things and we believe them to be true…What I want is for people to be open to the possibilities that their minds might be changed.” She added, “I think the church has been the poorer actually for not having the gifts of women—men and women—in its leadership.”
May we all be inspired by Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a woman who not only makes history, but does so with boldness and courage, unapologetically and matter-of-factly confronting sexism and racism on the national stage, to powerful leaders, and in some of the world’s most traditional, white and male-dominated halls of power.