“Pioneer in ‘Paradise'”

The following article is taken from the September/October issue of INSPIRE Magazine, the UK’s biggest reach good news magazine telling stories of God at work, and is used with kind permission.

How Rev Wendy Hough is working with her Anglican church in Northern Cyprus to be a force for good in the community

By CATHERINE DRINKWATER

APHRODITE’S island of love. Could this be the most entrancing place in the world to do God’s work?

Wendy Hough certainly thought so when she became Chaplain of St. Andrew’s Church in Kyrenia.

“I felt particularly blessed to be appointed the first female priest in the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf,” she says, “and even more so when St. Andrew’s became my church.”

St. Andrew’s is a tiny whitewashed church overlooking the castle and mosque with the Mediterranean Sea sparkling between. My first encounter with Wendy was at the Mothering Sunday service when posies of spring flowers and a simnel cake were distributed. It encompassed her warmth, sense of theatre and delight in the liturgy.

Meeting her later, I was curious to learn about the spiritual path that had led her to this appointment.

“I was brought up in the Methodist Church,” she explains. “I initially trained as a speech and drama teacher and turned my back on the Church. However, I always felt a sense of God’s presence.

“Later, as a theology student in Bristol, I grew to love the reverence and symbolism in the Anglo-Catholic Church. I was finally ordained in 2000 in Brussels.

“Prior to this I had been the lay chaplain at a hospice in Amsterdam, working with street people, prostitutes and drug addicts. It was while doing this work that I had a clear sense of my calling to serve God.”

How did she approach her new role as Chaplain of St. Andrew’s?

“I was used to working with the expatriate community during my early ministry in The Hague and Bern. The demographic in Northern Cyprus is very different as this is a  predominantly Muslim area. We also have many other nationalities within the diocese.

“I knew that as a single woman there would be challenges. Here, my aim has been to make the church more inclusive. We should be open to all, regardless of race or religious conviction.

“Working for change has ruffled feathers. But it’s essential that the church moves forward to be seen as a force for good in the community.

“St. Andrew’s is buzzing with our ‘Sundaze’ service for young people and families, and the African community, who enjoy a more evangelical approach, worship here also.

“Numerous Africans, such as our crucifix bearers and choir members, are now actively involved in Anglican services.

“Recently we were delighted when a group of young Turkish soldiers joined a service.”

Wendy’s role has also involved her in issues beyond her church.

“I feel hugely privileged to participate in a committee of religious leaders, albeit as the token woman! Our periodic interfaith conference enables us to discuss issues that concern us all – conflict resolution in particular.

“I was also very proud to have contributed to an interfaith statement condemning the use of violence against women in Cyprus.”

How has she been received?

“Wonderfully. I could not have been made more welcome, especially by our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

Since she has been here Wendy has become concerned by the hidden poverty on this island paradise. “Even among the expatriates, surprisingly,” she points out.

“Additionally, African student are lured here expecting to find work to help finance their studies. This just isn’t true and there are many incidences of real hardship. We as a church are working to address this.”

After almost three years, this committed, self-styled pioneer feels there is still much to do to see the church grow, and to involve people from all backgrounds. As one of her congregation whispered to me: “They don’t know how lucky they are. She’s inspirational.”

That early training in speech and drama, which brings her services to life, is leading her to contemplate the delights of creating a drama or even a series about the life of St. Andrew’s.

“Rather on the lines of The Vicar of Dibley – or even Rev,” she suggested, mischievously.

Perhaps the next series of An Island Parish would be a start.