Anglicanism is now in fashion and vice versa

The announcement that a British designer is bringing out a line of female clerical wear has come none too soon.

“Today more than ever women in ministry are complaining about the boxy, shapeless shirts on offer,” commented the designer Camelle Daley.

Of course one way to solve the problem would be for women to choose careers offering a greater sartorial latitude, but we know that’s not on the cards.

The Church has to be inclusive, upbeat, modern and, well, cool. This was more or less the message preached ex cathedra by the Archbishop of Canterbury more than a year ago.

Service attendance is declining precipitously, the Church is haemorrhaging communicants to Catholicism and so, according to His Grace, must do all it can to attract more and younger worshippers.

The way he worded this goal left one wondering what exactly those coveted youngsters should be worshippers of. Implicitly it didn’t matter: anything went as long as it put bums on pews.

Specifically a wider use of pop music was mentioned along with a liturgical language steering the middle course between the archaisms to which youngsters can’t ‘relate’ and the council-estate slang to which they can relate very well indeed.

Though specifics didn’t come up, His Grace ought to take a closer look at some versions of Scripture widely in use across the Atlantic. Wouldn’t it be nice if we too could replace “Thou shalt not kill” with “Don’t waste nobody, it ain’t cool”?

Only old fogies wouldn’t be able to relate to such a lexical shift, but they aren’t the target. The target is young people who ought to be made comfortable with the idea of not dissing their Mums and Dads or not nicking nothing. That’s what cool is all about.

At the time I proposed a few other measures, all admittedly unorthodox. In fact, had the stated aim been to entrench orthodoxy, I wouldn’t have proposed them. But if we’re after simply boosting attendance, my modest proposals have merit.

For example, since we now have the better part of 2,000 woman ministers in the UK, why shouldn’t they use their femininity more aggressively to achieve the Archbishop’s goal? That would be ignoring an opportunity that’s too good to miss.

To this end a female vicar should celebrate mass wearing nothing but her clerical collar and, as a sop to tradition, shawl. This would add a touch of delicious naughtiness to the words “Take, eat: this is my body”, especially if accompanied by a lascivious wink.

Moreover, our vicars could put their femininity to an even more direct, tactile use, taking their cue from Babylonian priestesses who knew exactly how to increase temple attendance.

Lest you might think I’m unfashionably sexist, male vicars could resort to similar ecclesiastical populism in some areas of London, such as Hampstead and Camden Town or, in the USA, all of San Francisco.

These proposals pursue a long-term strategy, a shining ideal at the end of the road, and should not be construed as a call to immediate action. Ideals are seldom achievable all at once – more often one edges towards them by a series of incremental steps.

This patient approach was taught by such role models for our prelates as Marx and Mao. The former emphasised the crucial distinction between a minimum and maximum programme, while the latter taught that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Replacing ‘a thousand miles’ with the EU-friendly ‘1,609,344 kilometres’, we get a call to action that works well in the present sartorial context.

One such initial step would be to dispense with the dull clerical garb or at least to jazz it up. After all, sex appeal is at its strongest when conveyed subtly.

A discreet two-foot slit on the side of a clerical skirt, for example, could enable a servant of God to flash a shapely thigh when kneeling at the altar. (Discretion is advised for not many shapely thighs are in evidence among our current female vicars.)

This could unlock young parishioners’ imagination, and we know that the brain is the most powerful erogenous zone. One can just see pimply parishioners half-rising from their pews to catch the delectable sight and then clearing their electronic week-planners for next Sunday.

But then Miss/Ms Daley doesn’t need fashion advice from rank amateurs like me. She knows what she’s doing and as proof of that she already has hundreds of customers.

“The style,” she says, “…is about clothes that accommodate the female shape in cut and fit.” Quite. Accommodate and accentuate, I’d suggest.

Far be it from me to offer advice to other Christian confessions, such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, but they should watch out lest they be overtaken by the progress pioneered by the C of E.

Since they still haven’t dispensed with monasticism, they ought to give serious consideration to the fashion statements made by nuns’ habits. A bit of décolletage would surely make the ladies, and hence their orders, more attractive.

Those sandals need work too. If they must wear them over bare feet, fine, although fishnets would work better. But why not add a few inches to the heels?

For the time being, the newspaper articles about Camelle Daley’s fashion breakthrough are accompanied by photographs of heavily made-up clerical babes sporting dog collars and skirts cut about six inches above the knee.

This, I dare say, is a move in the right direction. Upwards and upwards, Camelle, inch by inch. Godspeed to you and your devout customers.




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