FLOURTOWN -- Rose Hudson-Wilkin is Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons and Priest-in-Charge of St. Mary-at-Hill, City of London.
She is also one of the chaplains who participated in the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and was recently appointed the Bishop of Dover on June 28, becoming the first black female bishop in the Church of England. She will assume the role in November.
But last week, she was just a guest, visiting Carson Valley Children’s Aid, sharing her story of growing up in poverty in Jamaica.
Leaders of Carson Valley gave Hudson-Wilkin a tour of the Mother Goose building, followed by afternoon tea with presentations and questions from students.
Carson Valley Children’s Aid is a private nonprofit that serves youth in 7th through 12th grades through behavioral health treatment, after school care and residential and foster care in community homes. Residential youth are often sent to Carson Valley due to court orders involving bad living situations, such as neglect and abuse, and behavioral issues.
“[Hudon-Wilkin’s visit] is two-fold: It’s showcasing Carson, but it’s also giving youth the privilege of being around her and giving them a line of sight into a dignitary that looks like her,” said Marget Rux, president of the board of directors for Carson Valley.
Susan Gerrity, a member of Carson Valley’s advisory council, was able to orchestrate the visit through her membership in organizations associated with the Commonwealth of Nations and Great Britain.
“[Gerrity] thought the chaplain would enjoy seeing an organization like this, meeting our students and getting an idea of our education program and what we have to offer,” said Diane Kiddy, CEO of Carson Valley Children’s Aid. “She thought it would be an enriching experience for the chaplain.”
“We’re glad to share what we do here because we have such an important mission,” Kiddy said. “The more people that know about it, whether it be local people or people across the ocean … it’s important to know what kind of work we’re doing here.”
Carson Valley’s Director of Education Dexter Davis and a historian led a tour of the Mother Goose building. Hudson-Wilkin was shown multiple classrooms, an art room, and a computer lab while Davis and other leaders explained the mission of Carson Valley and how they serve youth.
Carson Valley accommodates two types of students: residents and “day” students, who are transported to the campus each day for school. The youth are provided with all the support they would need, such as therapists, social workers, clinicians and teachers, Davis said.
“We pride ourselves in making sure that when a child comes to Carson Valley, we provide them with all the support they need to be successful,” he said during the tour. “Our hope is that when they leave here, they would be better off than when they came here.”
After the tour of the Mother Goose building, afternoon tea was held where a video presentation about the services of Carson Valley was shown. Four students performed a step dance routine, and Hudson-Wilkins chatted with a group of students.
The students each asked the chaplain a question, ranging from her childhood in Jamaica, her relationship with Queen Elizabeth II and what inspired her to become a priest.
Hudson-Wilkin discussed her difficult childhood, describing her family as very poor. Her mother left her family to live in the United Kingdom soon after she was born in 1961, leaving Hudson-Wilkin to live with her older sister, father and aunt.
“I didn’t sleep in a bed until I was almost 16,” Hudson-Wilkin said. “My place for sleeping was the floor, old clothes was my bedding. But as a child growing up, you don’t resent because that’s all you know and you get on with it.”
She described a situation where her mother, after returning to Jamaica about a decade later, refused to give her money for a school field trip. She went on the trip anyway with money provided by her teacher.
“When I came back that afternoon, I got the finest beating anyone could ever have,” she said. “My eye was burst, and she kept beating me.”
“That was life,” she said. “All these years later, I look back and say, ‘That was then, here I am now.’”
Hudson-Wilkin said she later felt an overwhelming call to ministry at 14 years old.
“I think my faith has played a very important role in my life growing because things were hard,” she said. “For me, the church was that place where I found respite. My church and what I read from the Gospel told me about a God of love. That love felt very different from the inadvertent trauma and abuse that I got.”
She said she hopes her story of struggle and eventual happiness will inspire the youth to “keep going.”
“If you can see it, you can start believing it,” she said. “You seem to have the people around you who will help you to be on that journey to achieve and become the best you can be.”
The chaplain later closed the discussion with a reading of “Mother to Son,” a poem by Langston Hughes about how life is not a “crystal stair” and to not give up when life is tough.
When asked about the Queen, Hudson-Wilkin said she is often presented as serious and intimidating, but she sees a different side of her.
“She is very funny, very ordinary,” she said. “I like to think of her not as the Queen, but as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She is very caring, very hospitable and has a wealth of knowledge.”