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Crawford glowing in the pulpit

GERCINE CARTER, [email protected]

Crawford glowing in the pulpit

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AS A FEMALE priest in the Anglican Church, the Rev. Jilian Crawford has fearlessly stepped out of the box.

Installed as rector at St Mary’s Anglican Church in March, the 49-year-old woman of the cloth brings dynamism and a fresh approach to the business of leading the flock as she embarks on her latest mission at the historic church in the heart of Bridgetown.

She started her journey to the priesthood as a part-time student at Codington College in 1992 and in 2001 was the fourth female priest to be ordained in the Anglican Church in Barbados.

“It has been a good journey” she told the SUNDAY SUN, while relaxing at her home in Cane Garden Park, St Thomas on Friday. “Being in ministry, it does not say that you have all happy-clappy days, but I can say that I have enjoyed my journey. There were the challenges, but when the challenges came my attitude was always to meet them head-on and deal with them, because when you are dealing with people there is no perfect situation.”

For the former student of the Springer Memorial School, there has never been any other goal than to be in church ministry.

“I was always a church person involved in Sunday school, youth work, and youth ministry.” The last of eight children growing up in a Christian home in Gall Hill and Montrose Gardens, Christ Church, Crawford’s life revolved around activities at Christ Church Parish Church.

With this background, she said: “Having travelled that long journey over the years, as the breakthrough came for women to be ordained, I made the next step because I would have been involved in church for all my life. So it was a natural transition.”

Over the 16 years since her ordination, her learning experience has been enriched through association with senior clergy at various points in her career. She acknowledges the influence on her life by outstanding priests such as the late Canon Johnson and Canon Maxwell and retired Canon Ivan Harewood, among others.

Here is a priest who speaks frankly, is forthright, pulls no punches, and has a clear vision about her mission.

That she dared to step through the door of the priesthood as soon as it opened for women, may have had some opposing male forces. But she said: “If there were problems, I was not looking for them. My whole thing was, I have come do a vocation and to fulfil a duty.

“I face the challenges. I am not afraid. I always look for the solution.”

That self-assured, assertive persona prompted the question to the still single priest: “Have you ever considered marriage?”

reverend-jilian-crawford-050717“You can’t consider something if it is not offered to you,” was her blunt response. “It would be a long-term goal that you would want to get married but at the same time you would have to wait until it is offered to you.”

But she also admitted she sets a high bar. With candour, she said: “Being a female priest is a hindrance to men because of the standard that they will be required to meet.

“I think when you encounter a priest now, you have to raise the peg, come up a notch higher. I know that in the past men have said to me ‘your standards are too high’. But I don’t apologise for having a high standard, and that’s the bottom line.”

She continued: “I believe that if God has something in store for me he is going to give it to me regardless of whatever path I have taken.”

Stylishly turned out for the interview in a tastefully-appointed room bearing evidence of her decorating skills, the modern-day priest left no holds barred when she spoke about another aspect of Jilian Crawford, the priest – her penchant for dressing and looking good.

“I am a woman first and then a priest. I do not deny it, I will never deny it and I will remain true to it,” she said.

“I believe that every woman is called to celebrate her full femininity and it has been a motto of mine since the day of my ordination.”

In church you cannot help but notice her pristine white robes set off by an attractive, low-cropped hairstyle with a golden glow, well-manicured nails and a face made up to accentuate the engaging smile that she so readily flashes.

She strikes the same kind of fashion note when she is not on the job. “For me presentation is everything,” said the priest who admitted to “always being a dresser”.

“I had always liked dressing up and coming into priesthood I am not going to deny myself because I am a priest. I think people have this thing that priests are supposed to walk about looking dowdy,” she remarked.

“What you are seeing I am naturally me and I am not going to apologise for it. I will challenge the status quo and I will step outside the box though I will not go outside the railings.”

Her preference is for dresses with sleeves, and for long dresses. You may also see her wearing stylish Capri pants and the currently in-fashion off-shoulder style of blouse. Still, she claims some conservatism in dress. “I still believe in looking elegant. I don’t believe in looking ‘pop down’, to borrow a young people’s term” she quipped.

She is nevertheless a strong advocate for reverence in dress for church.

Crawford insists the same effort that goes into dressing well for a popular show should be made when going into the church to serve God and she is unsparing in her criticism of some unacceptable trends in dress she sees creeping into church.

It is one of the reasons that she has committed to making dress and other forms of etiquette part of her education outreach for young people at St Mary’s. Apart from exposing them to certain norms and standards, it is a way she hopes to rekindle their interest.

Yet she is realistic about the declining interest in church among this demographic.

“I think because of all the other attractions, that young people now have come to the point where they are not attracted to church. They think that church is boring,” Crawford observed.

Once the young people come to university age, she said, “The interest in church is gone because the interest is in a job, making money, getting involved, going out and seeing life, and they really don’t want the conformed life anymore.”

But she has not given up and said: “Wherever possible I will try to create situations and circumstances for young people to flourish.”

The forward-thinking priest does not dwell on the proverbial “good old days.”

“The old-time days can’t come back and I personally don’t want them back,” she said.

What she does insist on however, is that  “the morals and the principles” which were fundamentals common in Barbadian homes of yesterday, be instilled in this and succeeding generations of young people.