The first female Bishop of Scotland, Rt Rev Helen Hamilton, from the Open Episcopal Church, visited Londonderry for the first time on Friday.
She flew into the area on Thursday, and is staying for a week as the guest of Rev Dr Hugh Quigley, recently ordained Deacon for the Open Episcopal Church, who is based in Redcastle. She returns home to Scotland today, Wednesday.
Rt Rev Helen Hamilton, MA, trained as a teacher and a prison governor and lived for 12 years in a religious community ordained as a priest, and in June was consecrated as a Bishop and has postgraduate degrees from London and Cambridge Universities.
It is not her first visit to Northern Ireland, as she was a teacher in a Special School on the Shore Road, Belfast, during the Troubles. The school, she noted, was one of the few schools that was ‘mixed’ in those days.
“After teaching here I went to Cambridge University, and I have worked as a prison governor and a prison inspector,” she says, adding: “I have also been an Anglican Sister for 13 years near Oxford.”
Her journey as a Christian led her to the Episcopal Church, and a certain amount of controversy raged when she became the first female Bishop in Scotland in June. Bishop Helen now finds herself responsible for the spiritual life of her congregations in Scotland, and in addition to the administration work that her position involves, she is ultimately responsible for recruitment and training of new clergy into the Open Episcopal Church.
“The Episcopal Church is totally inclusive and has no hang-ups about women being priests or bishops,” she said of the OEC.
“A fundamental belief if that everybody should receive the Sacrament regardless of sex, race or orientation.”
Acknowledging the fact that the OEC has what could be perceived as a more controversial stance when it comes to its position on women clergy ascending through the ranks and in it’s inclusive stance on issues such as gender and sexual orientation, she said “nobody is condemned for their lifestyle”.
Asked what her impressions of Londonderry were, Bishop Helen said: “This is my first trip here. When I was here before I did not come to Londonderry because of the Troubles. but now coming here I think it is beautiful. Hugh took us on a tour in his car and I was immediately struck by the sense of vibrancy and life.
“I am amazed to see the transition that has happened in terms of inclusivity and people moving across the divide and that very much reflects what the Open Episcopal Church stands for too,” said Bishop Helen.
During her week here Bishop Helen will be walking in the footsteps of St Columba, with ‘spiritual walks’ and prayer will also form an important part of her visit.
Her host for her stay, Rev Quigley, in addition to being a Deacon in the OEC, is a UKCP registered psychotherapist and accredited counsellor.
He gained his PhD in 2007 and trained and worked in the field of personal growth and development since 1991. Registered with the British Psychological Society as a provider of psychological and psychometric assessment he worked in the NHS as a psychotherapist and in private practice in Northern Ireland as a psychotherapist, counsellor, supervisor, trainer and business consultant.
He was ordained a Deacon in the Open Episcopal Church in June.