Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Paris, Fashion and Being You

While I was in Paris I fell in love. Not just with the winding streets of the Latin Quarter nor the Patisseries on every corner but with something just as important and enduring. I fell in love with Fashion. I have to be honest, it is not our first fling. Since the age of 13 when I got my first pay cheque I have been lusting after a new bag or some strappy sandals. But Paris? Oh, it is a living catwalk. This year has been a rather tumultuous one for me and fashion and my time in the city took me some way towards getting my thoughts in order and answering that terrible, terrifying question – what on earth should a 29 year old Vicar-to-be have in her wardrobe?

I trace this particular crisis back to a lunchtime seminar on female clergy and clothes. In fact, I can trace it back to one particular sentence. 'If you want to get into any senior positions in the Church of England then you need to wear black, it is the only colour anyone will take you seriously in.' Pant suits are the order of the day, boxy shirts are your uniform. A conversation ensued about why this might be so and the consensus emerged that this is really about what men wear. It seems it is just easier to be taken seriously in the church right now if you either are a bloke or at least attempt to look as little different from a bloke as you can. You can debate that in your own time!

Now, there is of course much to be said about wearing clothes that are appropriate for the task at hand. I'm not suggesting pink sparkly sandals are suitable funeral attire just as I wouldn't have worn them to a business meeting in my former life. Many women like wearing black and see that as a representation of the kind of minister they are. That, of course, is fine and good. But I immediately found myself reacting strongly to the suggestion that I had to wear black to somehow blend into the boys club and not offend anyone with my femaleness. Being a minster isn't something you do on the weekends or that you pop a uniform on for during the day. It is you life, your every day. I instinctively knew, dressed head to toe in black, I would be compromising who I am and the minister I want to be.
My moment of high fashion in Paris!
Being in Paris really helped me think all these things through because the women there look so utterly appropriate, completely unbloke-ish and with a glorious sense of style. Whether we like it or not we all have to wear clothes and our clothes tell a story before we even open our mouths. Being in Paris made me think about what story I am telling. Me in black tells a story about suppressing my femininity and character for position and to appease. That is not a story I want to live, let alone tell.

If I'm going to be here in this big old institution then I have to be here as exactly what I am and that includes the fact that I am young and female. How else will people begin to understand that God isn't only partial to greying white men in black? That he loves us all, multicoloured and wonderful as we are. Rather than being a distinct, unapproachable figure I want to project accessibility. Having a faith doesn't make you some kind of alien being with which normal humans have nothing in common. You can chat to me, make friends with me. We are the same. Personally, that is important to me and that is the kind of minister I want to be.

It also says something about craftsmanship. About valuing artistry and design. For a long time now I have been making up my wardrobe of mainly second hand and vintage clothing. I try to choose clothes that are good news for the people that make and sell them. This sometimes means paying more, sometimes it means picking something up for a couple of pounds in a charity shop. Either way it is intentional and resisting the throw away fashion trend we have fallen so heavily into.

And lastly it says something about honesty. Hiding who I am is the very opposite of what I would encourage anyone to do who came to me pastorally as a minister. I would say shine, let yourself be seen and get out there. I would say choose clothes with compassion and honesty. I would say 'Be you.' So for that reason I am going to embrace my wardrobe, strappy sandals and all. Me and fashion are back on track.
Women with a pink handbag, coming to a Church near you!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Joy of Travel

I can hardly believe it but here I am back in my little house, snuggled under my duvet with which I have been gratefully reunited, after one month of three countries, fifteen different places and near on different beds every night. I wasn't sure how I was going to take to travelling. I was worried that I was going to feel unsettled, that what usually gives me peace of mind is the things around me but the reality couldn't have been further from the truth.

The bay in San Sebastian
Certainly I'm glad to be reunited with a wardrobe full of clothes that I haven't painstakingly hand-washed in the hotel sink. Having proper English tea available 24/7 again has made me slightly giddy with glee but the experience of having only what I can carry and dragging out the same old pair of shorts day after day was oddly freeing. There really are no distractions from what is going on right there, where you are. Your options are limited in material things but wide open in experiences.

Me and my trusty bag for the month
And there were plenty of experiences to be eyes wide open for. The vast range of cultures as you travel north to south across Europe, the depth of history that my secondary school 'tudors and a bit about the world wars' education didn't even touch, the different lives we encountered lived in quiet rural corners or busy city streets. The whole experience energized me for my own journey, taking me away from everything I had constructed in my head, shaking it up and letting it all resettle again.

The Alcazar in Seville
I may have dreamed up a few new dreams. The best kind of dreams, ones that make you a little shaky and wonder if you can be that courageous. But being on the road (or rails!) was the best kind of tonic for that too. Granted, eighteen year olds the length and breadth of Europe managed to hop on and off trains with abandon every summer and I'm no stranger to travel myself. Still, there was something about seeing that line on the map, winding its way through France, Spain and Italy, and knowing that I had come to the end of it. My journey, that I painstakingly planned, with all the little niggling worries about what might or might not happen and realise that I did it. I got to the end and it was wonderful.

But more than anything I am so thankful for the wow moments. It felt like the best gift I have ever given myself. The time, space and experiences to be truly, deep down thankful to be alive. To see something that makes me think with conviction 'Wow, I have really lived!' Travelling meant that those wow moments came thick and fast, barely a day passed without one. I feel like it has readjusted me somehow, reminded me that the world is a pretty darn amazing place full of new sounds, smells, tastes and glorious sights. That life is still wide open, it always has been really.

The Duomo in Florence
And so here I am, back to the life I left behind a month ago. Ready to open the books and embark on this coming academic year which in equal parts thrills and terrifies me. Bolstered by that gloriously stocked tea cupboard and a stack of brilliant memories I'm going forward boldly and letting myself think as vast as I dare for the next adventure.

Plotting in Paris!

P.S. I blogged all mytravel adventures over on Off Exploring and all the pics are now up there too. Yes, I was a bit snap happy!!