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Tributes to the Speaker’s Chaplain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:48 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Valerie Vaz Valerie Vaz Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 2:48 pm, 31st October 2019

I thank the Leader of the House for a really wonderful tribute to Reverend Rose. Before I pay tribute to Reverend Rose, I want to refer to your statement yesterday, Mr Speaker, on the new Speaker’s Chaplain. We welcome Reverend Canon Patricia Hillas, who will be with us shortly. I am sure she will do the same wonderful job as Reverend Rose has done. I was sorry to miss mass yesterday, when Reverend Rose and Father Pat were together. They have made a formidable team in our darkest hours.

We wish Reverend Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin—I am sorry she is not here in the Chamber, in her usual place—a heartfelt farewell. Reverend Rose arrived in the United Kingdom to join the Church Army as an 18-year-old young woman, displaying the Windrush generation’s adaptability. It did not take long for Reverend Rose to flourish, and in 1994 she was ordained to the priesthood, at the point where women had only recently been allowed to be priests. She continued to splinter the glass ceiling spectacularly given the context of the male-dominated area she was called to—not only for women, but crucially, and seemingly effortlessly, for women of colour.

It is no surprise to those of us who know her that, while holding the prestigious position of 79th Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons—as you heard, Mr Speaker, in tributes to you, a well-deserved appointment—and being one of the three chaplains to Her Majesty the Queen, she is much loved by her congregation at Holy Trinity church, Dalston, and at All Saints church, Haggerston, where she has worked for over 16 and a half years.

If you ask Reverend Rose, I am sure she will say that her pastoral missions both here and in Hackney share a common thread, and that is to make sure that everyone is well spiritually and everyone feels good enough to do their jobs well. The Leader of the House was right: when she says prayers, which she does every day, I often feel as though I have never heard those prayers before. She has an amazing way of making you feel that that is the first time you have ever heard those important words. Reverend Rose will tell you that prayer is at the heart of what she does.

Reverend Rose has always been a visible presence and is often seen around Parliament, as she says, “loitering with intent”, comfortable in her own skin and “in her hair”. I know that she has sought out hon. Members when they have faced difficulties. We have not had to go to her; she comes to us, and she makes sure that she counsels us in the appropriate way.

But what Rose has always been keen to emphasise is that in all she does she feels connected with—rooted to—her past in Jamaica, her grandparents and their grandparents, with sacrifices, ideas and hope passed through stories flowing from one generation to the next. She says that such a foundation will be an integral part of success for the next generation of young black people growing up in the UK, on the basis that “they survived, so we must thrive.” Yes, she has a way with words.

True happiness, Reverend Rose maintains, flows from where you come from, where you are rooted and the depth of spirit that tells you who you are. She poses questions: why should women be seen and not heard? Why not live in this world and not in the past? Why should not women be in leadership? Why should people of colour not be seen in all walks of life? But a good leader, she says, acts with integrity and loves the people whom they serve.

We certainly have felt the warmth of the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin’s spiritual leadership while she has been in Parliament, and at a very exacting period of our history. In an interview with The Observer, she revealed that her secret prayer was that she would like to see a more civil attitude among MPs. She warned that the world was looking in, and she would like to see a change in the way we MPs handled listening and speaking to one another. I think that it is a work in progress. Perhaps, when she is looking back on us from Dover, she will see that we have achieved her aims.

I have seen Reverend Rose sitting through many debates, particularly the European debates. Rose, we shall miss having you with us, guiding us gently but—in the words of Labi Siffre—with “something inside so strong” so that we learn to deal with our individual experiences through the way in which we respond to them, and, in the case of us women, teaching us to respond to high barriers by becoming taller.

We wish you, Ken, your two daughters and son all the very best in your new role. We know that you will continue, as Bishop of Dover, with your own mantra: to achieve, to excel, to overcome obstacles—that no limitations will rule your efforts. As we have already witnessed, we know you will go on to greater things and are proud to have crossed paths with you. A true pilgrim’s progress, from Jamaica to Canterbury. As Aretha Franklin would say—respect! Reverend Rose, we thank you. You were there for us when we needed you most.