Get to know our Chaplain, Rev. Wendy Hough.
Wendy, what brings you to North Cyprus?
I first visited North Cyprus ten years ago, in the summer of 2006. I was asked to be the locum (holiday cover) for Rev. Robin Brookes who was then the chaplain of the Anglican Church in Famagusta. I was captivated by the place. At the time I lived and worked in Switzerland as Associate Priest of St. Ursula’s, Bern. I remember vividly driving up to Kyrenia and visiting the church for some quiet time. I recall that memory often when I am in church today. Back then I never imagined that I would one day be able to serve the church here.
Have there been any issues or problems about the fact you are a woman?
There have been no issues whatsoever from the Turkish Cypriot authorities or our Muslim friends. They have all been supportive and if anything, protective.
In the Methodist church in which I grew up, there were many female ministers who were able and articulate. My mother had been a Salvation Army Officer before she met and married my father. I grew up with very positive role models of women who were not afraid to exercise leadership
In my experience of 16 years of ordained ministry, most of the barriers break down after a while, as God works through both genders to equally serve him and his church. It is an inextricable aspect of the role of female priests to be pioneers; it is part of our calling. This inevitably involves challenging the expectations and sometimes prejudices of others simply by being present and exercising the vocation. The church is in some ways a hospital. There are lots of wounded people with their own hurts and inadequacies. Many people project issues on to their priests or ministers and it is critical to discern where that is coming from and not allow it to damage you or the ministry you are called to exercise.
You have been ordained for sixteen years. Can you tell us about how you got into church life and ministry in the first place?
As I mentioned above, I was brought up in the Methodist church, and my mother had been a Salvation Army Officer before she met my father. In terms of my own faith journey, I grew up from the earliest age with an awareness of God’s presence. I loved going to Church. One of my Sunday School Teachers was a voice and drama teacher from The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Under her tutelage, from the age of six, I had speech and drama lessons, which nurtured in me a love of the spoken word and of theatre. Throughout my childhood and adolescence I won many prizes at competitions and I passed all of the external exams from the syllabus, until at the age of eighteen I obtained my teaching diploma. The love of Theatre and the spoken word for me was inextricably interwoven with my faith. I wanted to be an actress but also knew from an early age I had a calling to serve God.
Like many teenagers as I grew up I became disillusioned with a church that I felt to be irrelevant to the reality of the outside world. I believed that God was real but I turned my back on the church as I knew it. I did go to Drama School a few years later but not until I had first worked as a teacher/actress with a Theatre in Education Company, and lived in Paris, working as an au pair.
During these years I did not go to church, or attempt to follow what I believed in my heart to be true. It took me some years of searching before I came back to a faith in The Living God. When I did, I was led in quite an extraordinary way to Amsterdam. The Netherlands became an extremely significant part of my life over the following 25 years. It was back in 1988 in the little Anglican Church, Christ Church, where the chaplain and his wife felt that I had a calling to study theology and train for ministry. It is through their initial encouragement that I began to explore ordination.
Can you tell us about your theological studies and where you trained?
From 1991-1994 I studied at Trinity College Bristol and graduated with an honours degree in theology. During this time, I worshipped at an Anglo Catholic church and my faith was deeply informed in particular by the depth and beauty of symbolism and reverence. I had a huge concern for those who are broken and searching, as I still do today, so specialized in Pastoral Theology and psychology. My final dissertation was on “Death and Dying” , recognizing the value of human life in God’s eyes even when people have lost all the physical and mental attributes we usually measure them (and ourselves) by. The first women in the Church of England were ordained to the Priesthood during my time in Bristol but then I was hesitant to offer myself. It took me a long time to be sure of my own calling.
In 1994, after I graduated, I returned to Amsterdam to take up a post as a lay chaplain in a hospice for street people, drug addicts and prostitutes. It was during this work that I experienced a clear and profound sense of calling and offered myself for ordained ministry, which was confirmed by the diocese in Europe. By this time I was married and with my husband and 2 1/2 year old daughter I moved to Durham to pursue post graduate studies prior to ordination. I was ordained as a deacon in Brussels in 2000 and then I was priested one year later in the Anglican church of St. John and St. Philip in The Hague where I served my curacy, (first position in the church).
That little girl, Lily, is now a stunning twenty year old reading “International Studies”, regarded as the foundation for diplomatic work. It is a multi -disciplinary degree of Politics, Law, Economics and French, at Leiden University, in The Netherlands.
It sounds as if you have travelled and lived in other countries quite a lot.
Languages and the international world are an integral part of my identity and spirituality. I have always had a passion for ecumenical and interfaith issues. As part of my Master’s degree I undertook a placement in Poland to evaluate the Anglican Church in a Roman Catholic context. It was a huge privilege, in 2004, to be invited to lead the annual retreat of the English Speaking Roman Catholic congregation in The Hague. The retreat took place in the Roman Catholic Monastery in Tilburg, in Belgium. The Abbott invited me into the inner sanctuary after supper to tell the brothers, in Dutch, something of what it meant to be a female priest. The brothers told me afterwards how they had ben mesmerized by the image of me sitting with my six year old daughter at my feet, adding her own thoughts occasionally to my words. Their understanding of priesthood, I was told had been transformed by that experience. Again accompanied by my daughter, at the end of my curacy I went to Sri Lanka to explore and research the Anglican Church there in a multi faith but primarily Buddhist culture. I am fluent in Dutch and French and I am currently enjoying learning Turkish.
What has been the most significant experience or memory over your time of being ordained?
Those that spring to mind are sadly, tragedies. As a chaplain in The Red Light District in Amsterdam I was frequently taking funerals of young people whose lives had been tragically wasted. This involved also working with their families. In my former church in Bristol I once conducted a funeral of a young groom whose marriage I had officiated at just four weeks earlier. He had taken his own life because drug dealers were chasing him for money. The funeral was attended by heavily armed plain clothes police as they expected some form of outburst and violence. Clergy have to be prepared for, and live with almost any eventuality.
To be involved with people at such a significant time in their lives, the death of a loved one, whatever the circumstances; or marriage or birth and baptism is such a huge privilege. It is inextricably entwined with encouraging and nurturing people to faith.
I am a founding member of a prayer group to support the work of judges, lawyers, and translators at The War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.
In Bristol, my work was multi -faceted. I served as chaplain to a school that was attached to one of the most historic and visited churches in the country, St. Mary Redcliffe, in Bristol, where I was the first Parish Missioner. My remit was to identify ways of cross fertilising between school, church and community, to develop synergies and mission between the three. I was honoured to have my work and role recognised as “outstanding” in the school’s educational appraisal. All churches should understand their role as being the nexus, or hub of society around them. Paradoxically, and simultaneously, they should also be a sanctuary from that society in order to resource us to deal with and contribute to, that society.
An experience of a totally different nature was as president of the Christmas morning Eucharist broadcast live on BBC One a few years ago. I received many moving letters about how much it meant to people. We had to forget the cameras and focus on inviting 3 million others around the world to participate with us in our worship.
We understand you are committed to some work in Palestine. Can you explain what that entails?
Over the past five years I have become involved with issues of Conflict Resolution and advocacy with Christian Palestinians in the West Bank. My first trip was revelatory for me; it seriously challenged my previously held convictions and theology. I was shocked at how the media distort reporting about the situation. I care passionately about justice with peace. In Conflict Resolution we cannot just paper over cracks. We must address the underlying injustice of a given situation in order for it to be transformed. Peace is a Gospel value but peace is not the same thing as appeasement. Appeasement is about compromise, anything for a quiet life. This kind of pseudo peace costs too much, bought at the expense of justice, freedom and truth. Peace without justice simply supports the forces of evil by cloaking the injustice. This as relevant in our homes and churches as it is in the world.
What do you think you bring you to St. Andrews, what are the particular challenges and what is your vision for the church?
It is the first time the church here has had a female chaplain and I am not married so that is a very different dynamic in comparison to the past.
Where there is a long established network of friendships and ways of doing things it is invariably hard for an outsider to come in and suggest differences and bring a new way of doing things. This happens with every newly appointed priest and church. I was struck by how some of the long established members only talked with each other before and after services. It is encouraging to witness new people being welcomed in, and others returning, and help them to integrate with the fuller body. The nature and identity of St. Andrew’s church, and its demographic make- up, has changed and is changing. Increasingly, I believe that God calling me here is as a catalyst to allow this transformation to take place. I have certainly become aware of the prophetic calling of my role as priest in my first two years here, during which time the foundations have been laid for future work.
Church is about growing in faith and making room for others to share in that faith and to learn how to worship in different ways, some more formal and reverent, others more interactive. As with our diet for our physical bodies, the Body of Christ needs varied diet of worship, to learn from other traditions and grow in a healthy way. We are the only Anglican Church in this part of the North, and so wish to make room for those of many different traditions. This is in-keeping with all of my experience in my former churches in The Netherlands and Switzerland. There has been an influx of younger people coming into worship, particularly with the establishment of a new service, “Sundaze”, designed purely for young families and children. The committed and supportive team of office holders and council, with new members willing to come and serve, has been so encouraging, catching the vision for movement. There is a sense that God is really at work.
In line with my ecumenical commitment and advocacy for justice and peace issues, I am honoured to be invited to participate in and contribute to the Religious Track for the peace talks here in Cyprus. This is a practical arm of serving the wider society in which we live. It is also a reminder that churches, and all places of worship, should be places of reconciliation and healing. At St. Andrews, we are moving nearer to that identity.
My vision is to continue to enable the witness, mission and reputation of St. Andrews to change. It is delightful to experience the place becoming a welcome place for all, with a vibrant faith that is relevant to the society which it serves. I look forward to inspiring and enabling that growth for some years to come.