Church of England defends appointment of Rose Hudson-Wilkin as Bishop of Dover

Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin(Photo: Jim Drew)

The Church of England's Head of Parliamentary Affairs, Richard Chapman, has written to the Spectator to defend the appointment of Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin as the next Bishop of Dover after a critical piece in the magazine drew controversy. 

Ysenda Maxtone Graham claimed in a column earlier this week that Kent was "bracing itself" for the arrival of Rev Hudson-Wilkin, currently the Speaker's Chaplain in Parliament, and "enjoying their last quiet months". 

Rev Hudson-Wilkin will be the Church of England's first black female bishop when she takes up the post in November. 

In her column, Maxtone Graham poked fun at Rev Hudson-Wilkin's penchant for dangly earrings and hugs, but controversially suggested that the black priest, who was born and raised in Jamaica before settling down in England, would bring an unwelcome diversity agenda to white-majority Kent. 

"What worries East Kent (population 89 per cent white British) is that she specialises in haranguing her audiences about not being diverse enough," she wrote.

Elsewhere, she writes: "There's anxiety that she's going to take out her lingering (but understandable) fury about colonialism and slavery on the unsuspecting Kentish population ... The clergy are now worried that she is going to be bringing this agenda to the whole Canterbury diocese." 

The comments gave rise to complaints from many Christians that the article, which remains online, was racist and sexist.

In a letter to the editor, Mr Chapman said he did not recognise the person described in the Spectator piece and that Rev Hudson-Wilkin was the "right choice" for the next Bishop of Dover.

"Every Wednesday for the past nine years, it has been my privilege to attend the lunchtime Eucharist services in the Parliamentary Chapel, conducted by the Speaker's Chaplain Rose Hudson-Wilkin," he said.

"These routine acts of worship are not public, but are attended by parliamentary staff, MPs and peers. Central to them are Rose's homilies and prayers, which are spiritual life-support to those of us who serve and navigate our increasingly fraught politics.

"I did not recognise the person described by Ysenda Maxtone Graham in her article ('Kent's new Rose', 20 July) and noted with some concern the author's emphasis on perceived political agendas, which we are told is 'what worries East Kent (population 89 per cent white British)'." 

He praised Rev Hudson-Wilkin as a "skilled evangelist and preacher" with "profound pastoral gifts".

"It is those qualities of evangelism and pastoral care that make her entirely the right person to minister to all the people of the Canterbury Diocese in her new role as Bishop of Dover," he continued.

"She will be greatly missed in parliament, as the many heartfelt tributes paid by those who know her and have benefited from her kindness, wisdom and counsel bear witness to. She leaves us with our prayers and enduring gratitude."