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By Esra Aygin and Funda Gumush

The Reverend Wendy Hough became ordained as an Anglican priest 16 years ago. Here, she tells of how she was entranced by Cyprus when she first visited 10 years ago and her work in the region.

Wendy is the Reverend of St Andrew’s Church in Kyrenia, which comes under the Archdeaconry of Cyprus. “You must see Kyrenia,” she was told and recalls driving to see the ancient harbour and Bellapais.

She has been a Reverend at St Andrew’s for the past two years and hopes to stay on for another three.

“I’m just getting started,” she adds and hopes the changes she hopes to make are implemented.

“I never thought as a woman that I could be appointed (as a bishop), because although we have women priests, our church has had issues about women being ordained.

“Women bishops were just not allowed,” she added.

It hasn’t been an easy road for her to be accepted by her peers, and although it has sometimes been a struggle in Kyrenia, people are adapting.

Wendy was licensed in Brussels and became a priest in The Hague, Netherlands She has also served the church in Switzerland – Bern and lived in Paris.

“You realise as a woman what your quality is: to pull down barriers. I believe as humanity, male and female, that we are all equal and we should be working and representing that equally.”

Wendy explains that one has to work through it and persevere within faith work, like one would in a marriage. She describes how some of the Roman Catholic Filipina women, who reside in the town, were shocked to find her at the head of the church in the town.

“At first they would be poking around the door, like… ‘Is this OK?’ And then it has been empowering for them.

“This is OK. And many of them now come in. Many from the Roman Catholic faith now come in. “There is room for everybody. We don’t exclude people,” she says.

Her flock extends from Akanthou (Tatlisu) to as far as Lapithos (Lapta) and Wendy notes that people from the south pop in to see her from time to time.

“The church is open every day all day through the week. So people can come and light a candle,” she adds.

Regional work
Over the past five years, Wendy has regularly been visiting Palestine to work in conflict resolution. In the beginning, she explained that it was hard not to get ‘sucked in’ to the type of biased mentality that was going on there.

Wendy said that before her visit, she bought into the traditional Western media representation of the Israeli government and its citizens being the victims and that the “brutality justifies everything ‘because God said it was alright’”.

“I bought into that – not heavily but I did. But now I am ashamed that I did,” she said.

“We went on a trip, many of us Christians on sort of like a pilgrimage and I stayed with Christian Palestinians on the West Bank and it was like a conversion.”

After spending some time with Christian Palestinians, Wendy admits that she was appalled with what was going on there. “There is an ongoing sustained ethnic cleansing and our [Western] media does not report it.”

Wendy said she has worked with many Jewish people as well on conflict resolution, justice and peace advocacy and has been asked to host some talks in June between Jews and Palestinians who will be in the north.

Local welcome
Asked how she was greeted in the north by the predominantly Muslim community, Wendy noted that Turkish Cypriots have been very welcoming.

“A lot of Turkish-speaking Cypriots are very nominal Muslims and have actually been very supportive — possibly because I am a female.

“The mufti here is just lovely. He was here at my licensing. There has never been an issue. And the police and the other figures here (are supportive),” she said.

“Some people said I would have problems because this is a very male-dominated society. And it’s actually them who had a problem. Not the others.”

Wendy is learning Turkish as she believes it will help her ingrain herself more into the community.

And the Cyprus talks? Wendy attended round-table discussions last year with regards to religious dialogue. She was honoured and privileged to be part of such an event. She warmheartedly likened one of the meetings to that of her local council meeting, where people would meet to discuss developing projects and ensuring that there were sufficient amenities and disabled lavatories available to worshippers.

“It was like a local council meeting, but on a bigger scale.”

However there have been some amazing discussions and she believes great headway has been made.

“There will always be disagreements. There are bound to be. And there still are issues. We know that. But I think there is movement. And places of worship mosques and churches wield huge influence and if these places are teaching respect and tolerance then for every faith and tradition – that’s surely a huge start.”

As an outsider, she explained that she felt it a huge privilege to be able to play a small role.

“I think it’s very important for me and this church to be out of the propaganda completely, and be what we should be, this place of reconciliation, of healing, of welcome,” she says.