Friday, 20 February 2015

Vicar's Study: Let the Women Speak

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at Christ Church Cathedral. I am doing some volunteering there to get some experience of the life and work of a cathedral and my first day involved a tour and a brief insight into its history. During the tour I was surprised and pleased to discover that the patron saint of not just the cathedral but also Oxford University and the city of Oxford as a whole is St Frideswide.

Born around 680 Frideswide is credited with founding a church, a community of women, around which it is quite likely the city of Oxford grew. There is little historical detail of her life still available to us but there is a shrine to her in the cathedral which historically drew people from across the country seeking healing. Today it is still a place of prayer and sanctuary. Frideswide is tucked away in the corner of the cathedral and I had previously known hardly anything about her. And yet her name means 'Strong Peace' and she stands as a foundation stone that a whole city grew around.

I was particularly surprised by this female founder because my time in Oxford has frequently been rather a macho affair. Though the church is full of inspiring women, who are many times its real back bone, the voices that emerge most loudly are often the male ones. The history of the church is dominated with stories of men, the portraits that line the walls of our theological college are nearly all of men.

Even now working and thriving in the church as a woman takes a steady resolve and a good deal of wisdom. Though a lot of progress has been made I often feel that the difficulty that the male dominated nature of the institutional church poses for women is poorly understood or reflected upon. One way, it seems to me, that this can be addressed is by remembering and honouring inspirational women in both our heritage and in the present.

This last week I have been reading a book called God's Troublemakers - How Women of Faith are Changing the World by Katharine Rhodes Hendreson. I've found it a hugely inspirational read. Not only does it chart some of the significant achievements of women in the modern day at addressing some of society's greatest needs but it also looks at how women are doing so uniquely and with a different model to that which has gone before. One of the exciting facets of these women's work is their connection to the grass roots which drives their activism to change the system.
Rather that being distant from the problems they are attempting to alleviate, such as domestic violence and child poverty, these women place themselves at the heart of it. This is significantly different to what we experience of many of our senior leaders day to day who often seem to have lost touch with the 'real world' and the people in it. I wonder if having an experience of alienation, for whatever reason, is raising up some interesting leaders. Put simply if you have experienced discrimination perhaps you are less likely to discriminate. Perhaps we can begin to generate leaders who refuse the lure of the ivory tower and dominating power and instead seek to raise people up and value the human connection as a primary driving force for their work.
I'm encouraged that when I am ordained in the Cathedral it will be in the shadow of a great woman. It will help me to remember that those women are there in our history even if we sometimes forget to celebrate them. It will remind me that it is perhaps not so strange after all for me, as weak as I feel, to take my place in the church. That, as women, we have a heritage too and we can go on as leaders in the future with confidence in our place, following in the footsteps of those women who have gone before us.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Ooh la la – A weekend in Paris

Last weekend I had the great pleasure of spending a weekend across the channel in the magnificent and ever beautiful city of Paris. It still completely bamboozles me that in the time it takes to get half way up England you can be in the French capital. We set off after lunch from London and by late afternoon we were sipping a glass of red in Paris' Latin Quarter. Saturdays don't get much better than that!

As one might expect from a weekend in France, and from even the briefest of perusals of this blog, the time was largely dominated by food and a great deal of adoration of it. On the first night we ate in a restaurant that resembled someone's living room but that had been decorated in a rather unusual style. Given that it was Valentines night it provoked much mirth that I was eating the world's best beef bourguignon under a wall decorated with bras!

We spent out days in the city just walking around and enjoying the city. On the first day we went to Versailles and soaked in the rich history and sumptuous d├ęcor.. I found myself somewhat worryingly at home in Marie Antoinette's house given her eventual fate. Every surface possible in her rooms was decorated with flowers embroidered into the furnishings and painted onto the walls.

The Grand Trianon from

The grand summer house, or Trianon, on the estate had two major wings separated by a covered, arched walk way which looked out on the countryside around. My husband I mused that life would be considerably easier if we had a wing each in our house. No more fighting over whether the Playstation or reruns of Call the Midwife dominate the telly. How tempting! Great to see romance blossoming in Paris, eh?!

Having resisted the temptations of luxury we spent most of our time in surroundings much more suited to our station, in the studenty back streets of the Latin Quarter. There the streets are a maze of typically elegant Parisian buildings, neighbourhood eateries and dusty bookshops. Possibly the greatest combination of these was the restaurant La Fourmi Ailee.

La Fourmi Ailee from
It used to be a feminist bookshop and is now the sweetest little cafe serving food on into the evening. We could hardly tear ourselves away. There I tucked into a plate of Provencale stuffed vegetables washed down with a gorgeous bottle of French red. There may have been some chocolate cake to finish the meal too, but that would really be telling!

Needless to say I fell well and truly in love with French cuisine. On our way back to the station yesterday we stumbled across a Fromager where I picked up some Brie and Camembert. This involved spending the rest of the day guarding my purchases from being squashed on the Metro like they were my first born but it was well worth it. I now have a week ahead of cheese and baguette reminiscing on such a wonderful Parisian adventure.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Vicar's Kitchen: Roast Med Veg Soup

This is one of my favourite recipes at the moment partly because I had been looking for ages for a recipe that can use up the two bags of tiny weeny pasta that I accidently bought when shopping online! Now I'm actually quite into it as it fills out the soup so that you hardly even need any bread with it to make a hearty lunch.

The tiny pasta that needed a home and now ends up, well, everywhere!

It's also a great soup for using up whatever is in the fridge, this version uses tomato, courgette and carrot but you could throw pretty much anything in there with the tomatoes. I often just make it as a simple roast tomato soup too and it is delish.

Roast Med Veg Soup


800g tomatoes
1 courgette
1 litre of chicken or veg stock
2 carrots
1 red onion
2 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp. of tomato paste
A splosh of balsamic vinegar
100g tiny soup pasta
2 tsp brown sugar

serves 4


  • Start by chopping the tomatoes into quarters and the courgette (or any other veg you are using) into chunks about 3 cm cubed. Chuck all the veg into a roasting tin and splosh over some olive oil and the balsamic vinegar. Season with a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes until the veg is soft.
  • Blitz the veg in a blender and put to one side
  • Fry the chopped onion, garlic and carrot in a tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan
  • When the onion is soft add the stock, the blended roast veg mix, the tomato paste and the sugar.
  • Gently bubble the soup for 15-20 minutes until the carrot is nice and soft.
  • Blitz the soup in a blender and return to the pan.
  • Add the pasta and cook for the length of time that the pasta packet instructs you. I leave it for about 10 minutes. You may need to add a bit more water at this stage if the soup is getting very thick as the pasta absorbs some of the water.
And ta da! Hearty flavoursome soup!


Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Ethical Life Makeover

Recently I've been contemplating having a bit of an 'ethical life makeover'. As I rule I try to buy things second hand and, as anyone will know from my Twitter feed, I spend an inordinate amount of time in charity shops where most of my clothes, homeware, books and general tat come from. This seems like fairly safe ground to me, everything is otherwise destined for the dreaded landfill and the money goes to charity. It eases my conscience at buying yet another pair of heels anyway!

Completely unnecessary but second hand!
But then I also wonder how much else in my life I could orientate towards giving those who produce and sell what I use a better deal. Simple answers seem to abound (buy nothing but essentials, grow your own, wear dodgy clothes that resemble old sacks...) but not only are they not all that desirable bur I also wonder if they really get to the nub of the issue. If I never buy anything new then what happens to the suppliers who produce those goods and the people working in the shops that sell them? Arguably art is a complete non essential but what if no one ever bought art? The world would be infinitely the poorer.

Perhaps it is a bit simplistic but when I think about these issues I am always brought back to one of my favourite periods in history, Renaissance Florence, that produced some of the world's greatest treasures of art and literature. Without people spending money there would have been no Medici palaces, no 'Birth of Venus', no 'David'. I often have the same debates with myself over travel. Yes, it is a luxury but what about those tiny fishing villages I love to visit in Greece who rely entirely on tourist trade to keep going for the quiet months? Making good choices doesn't seem as black and white as simply, 'Do nothing, Buy nothing'.

But likewise by making purchases we are undoubtedly feeding the system from which they come whether that is a culture of throw away fashion, low wages for workers or environmentally dodgy practices. The thought of wearing clothes that have been made in a factory that pays next to nothing of uses child labour is completely unacceptable and at the very least I would like to be in a position to campaign better about it and shop more wisely when I do buy things new.

All in all it seems horribly complicated and that often leaves me a bit bamboozled as to the best way to spend my money. All I know is that I want to think it out some more so I am able to make more informed choices and to be able to say, to the best of my knowledge, that my lifestyle isn't traipsing all over other people horribly. Is it possible? I don't know but it seems right to try so over the next few weeks and months I'm going to look into the area of fashion, food, travel, beauty and the home to see what I can uncover.
Any tips are very welcome!