From Ghana to Antrim - how new Bishop Hilda found her calling

HILDA Abban is not your typical bishop.

When she met the Antrim Guardian for her interview, she arrived at 9am, straight from her nursing nightshift.

Hilda, who lives in Randalstown was consecrated in Crumlin a few weeks ago - on her birthday - to the office of Bishop by Bishop Dr David Oronsaye and Pastor Robery Dazdie.

She is the first female, black, Pentecostal African/Ghanaian Bishop in the UK, the first black bishop in Northern Ireland and the second black female bishop in the UK.

She oversees The Rock Family Chapel Ministries, established in Accra, Ghana in 2010.

There are branches in Crumlin, in Awoshie, Accra Ghana and Badwiase in the Central Region of Ghana.

The church, based at Nutts Corner Enterprise Park, offers refuge for vulnerable people in the community, including people fleeing arranged marriages, future female genital mutilation or forced religion and refugees and asylum seekers.

They provide counselling, vocational training, employment and pastoral care.

There are also services for orphans and widows, prisoners and ex-offenders and provision of Christmas gifts and hot meals.

During Covid-19, members of the church played their part in their neighbourhoods, supporting the vulnerable and front line workers.

Similar services are offered in Ghana, as well as support to rehabilitate those with addictions and for HIV sufferers, providing education, vocational training and employment for people on rehabilitation programs.

Hilda has been in the UK for more than 30 years and came to Northern Ireland four years ago after a call was put out for more nurses to work in local hospitals.

She has worked as a ward, site and bed manager and international trainer, coach and recruiter and even owned a bakery and restaurant in Hackney.

Hilda has skills in motivational speaking and conflict resolution, mentoring, counselling and consulting.

Her first visit to Northern Ireland came when the country was not so multi-cultural.

As a member of Elim Pentecostal Church in Finsbury Park in London, she visited Ballyclare for their Women in Ministry Conference.

“I came to Ballyclare about 20 years ago for a Christian conference and stayed with a lovely local family for a week,” she said.

“One lunchtime we were encouraged to take a break and check out the high street.

“I walked into a store - it isn’t there any more - I checked!

“The whole place ground to a halt.

“Everyone was looking at me. Even babies in pushchairs. The security guard followed me around.

“I just got out of there. I can imagine I was the first black person that a lot of people had seen.

“But I knew I would come back some day, and I have been here for four years now -if I don’t like somewhere, I pack up and leave, but things are so much better here now, there is a real sense of peace and people are so much more accepting.

“My children were a little worried about me coming here, but I assured them that things had changed for the better.”

That’s not to say that life in Northern Ireland is uneventful.

After the consecration, the party of clergy and parishioners went for a Chinese meal in Stranmillis, before visiting Belfast landmarks including the Peace Wall - where their bus came under attack from stone-throwers.

While no one was hurt, the police are treating the incident as a race hate crime.

But Hilda took it all in her stride.

“It was a very special day for me and one which I will never forget, it was full of celebration and happiness,” said Bishop Hilda.

“I will not let what happened in the evening spoil my memories.

“Some of the English visitors were scared and shaking, and it was unfortunate because we had assured them that Northern Ireland was a peaceful place and nothing bad would happen.

“Luckily the window on the bus was just smashed and not broken, no one was hurt, everyone recovered and we were able to enjoy the rest of the weekend.”

Hilda was just a young girl when she realised that the conventional religious institutions in her home country were not for her.

“I was raised Catholic, and my parents were very staunch Catholics, but I knew something was missing,” she said.

“Like many teenagers, I revolted. I did not feel a true connection with God in that church.

“There was a charismatic group within the church, which I joined, but it still did not fulfil me and I started to become interested in the gospel and Pentecostal churches and that is where the Lord spoke to me.”

She spent time as a pastor, with her first ordination in 2008, an evangelist and apostle before making her transition to Bishop

“There has been a long journey of outreach and pastoral work,” she said.

“I want to be a pioneer and a role model for women and for black, African women,” she said.

“It has not been easy, but it can be done.

“In Ghana there is severe need, people are living in poverty, but there is need everywhere.”

Hilda says that her consecration can serve as an inspiration to others.

“It will be possible for women in ministry to get guidance and mentorship, to bring a balance to the male-dominated ministry

“Women will aspire to be in church leadership and I can offer encouragement to other women in ministry that they can also make the journey, regardless of the hurdles

“Some women will wish to be under the authority of a female leader and I can bring healing in so many ways to women in ministry

“Women in ministry will need a female role model who can ordain women into ministry

“Men will know that women in ministry now have a woman in church leadership who can mentor them

“As a female Bishop, I am like Deborah in the bible.

“Deborah was a warrior she led the army to war, was a leader and a prophetess.

“These are skills which I also transfer today into my ministry today.

“I am a leader who speaks the hidden oracles of God, as I lead ladies worldwide to victory in their ministry.”

While living in England, Hilda established branches of her church in Norwich and Stockwell.

When she came to Northern Ireland, she found need of a different kind.

“There was definitely a requirement for a gospel, Pentecostal church.

“There seemed to be a lot of churches in Ballymena.

“I first noticed this when going shopping at the Fairhill centre.

“I decided to put feelers out and had some tracts printed up to hand out and see what the reaction was.”

But Hilda felt a pull towards Antrim.

“I have a close relationship with God and serve him through healing and interpreting visions and voices and through him, this was the area where I was moved to establish this branch of the church.

“We started out at Greystone on shared premises, but again I felt the strong urge for independence and found the unit here in Crumlin and we can come and go as we please.”

Hilda’s long-term ambition is to establish a physical shelter for those fleeing violence.

She is particularly driven by her own personal tragedy after her sister was killed by her partner in England in the 1980s.

“Every time she was attacked, the police were called, but then he came back and she was never safe.

“There are so many men, women and children in the same position and I would love to be able to offer them somewhere to go and find safety and peace.

“But we are a Pentecostal church, we do not get a salary, I don’t get a house to live in with my role, we have to collect and fundraise ourselves.

“We are registered with the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action and are undergoing fundraising training.

“It will be a long road ahead, but we can do it.

“Some people who could be non Christians, may receive Christ into their lives and become Christians

“Wounded women will have a place seek refuge.

“We will provide spiritual healing and guidance, counselling, prayer meetings, church service, emotional healing,

“As a Bishop I provide spiritual healing to those in my care.

“As a nurse I provide emotional healing to those in my care.

“In both roles I’m continually caring for people. That’s what Jesus did wherever He went. We try to live a life Jesus commanded us to.”

The church currently welcomes people from all backgrounds and of all ages.

While covid curtailed physical services, Rock Family Chapel offers Zoom services at midday and midnight, which are joined by local worshippers and guests from all over the world, and a 10am Sunday service.

Hilda also updates her flock with daily passages from the Bible and sermons based on the scripture.

“Everyone is welcome, the church is available to one person or to twenty people, whoever wants to come and praise the Lord,” she said.

“We do not pick and choose, we are not constrained in the way that some other churches might be.

“We are a very friendly church, a very fun church, it is very lively and there is a lot of singing and dancing.”

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