East Kent is bracing itself. Its Church of England clergy are enjoying their last quiet months before Rose Hudson-Wilkin arrives as the new Bishop of Dover in the autumn, replacing Trevor Willmott. History is being made — the C of E is to have its first black woman bishop. But some members are clutching their heads in despair at what they see as Justin Welby’s predictably flashy appointment. Behind the scenes, there’s a lot of sighing going on.
Rose Hudson-Wilkin is the Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons. Known for her dangly earrings, she is widely loved in the Palace of Westminster and is in her element as she strolls the corridors in her red clericals, purveying hugs and prayers at moments of political crisis.
So insistent was John Bercow on having her as his chaplain that he broke with the historic tradition of the job being done part-time by the Rector of St Margaret’s, Westminster. An old-school white Oxbridge male, Andrew Tremlett, had the St Margaret’s job, but Bercow was having none of him. He wanted Rose — and he got her.
They’re both stubborn modernisers: Bercow getting rid of ties and clerks’ wigs; Hudson-Wilkin adapting 16th-century daily prayers so they sound more global in tone, and leading women-centred prayers on International Women’s Day.
When Bercow was accused of bullying in the Houses of Parliament last year, Hudson-Wilkin stood up for him live on television. Loyal, kind colleague — or defender of a nasty man? Opinions differ. Bercow described Hudson-Wilkin last week as ‘one of the kindest and most loving people I have ever met… with an ability, more than she would ever know, to bring comfort in time of tragedy’. He was referring to her pastoral care of MPs after the Westminster Bridge attacks, which by all accounts was superb.
How will she fare, though, traipsing round the towns and villages of East Kent? What worries East Kent (population 89 per cent white British) is that she specialises in haranguing her audiences about not being diverse enough.