Dean and Rector at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, Reverend Shelley Ann Tenia said she was disappointed that the action of one designer tainted the public’s view of an event meant to help with the restoration of the Port-of-Spain church.
The church was damaged by a powerful earthquake on August 21, 2018, during which the steeple of the church was broken.
Three fashion shows were hosted by StyleWeek Port-of-Spain on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Anglican church, to raise funds for the church’s restoration.
However, several swimsuit models were cast in the show, which caused an uproar among many who saw it as a desecration of a holy site.
Reverend Tenia explained that there were guidelines that were agreed to by the organiser for the event when they approached the church to use the venue.
She said based on her information, it appeared only one of the designers went against the church’s guidelines for the event.
“I think there were about five designers each night who showcased their work and of those five designers, one of those designers disregarded completely the agreement that we had about how things would be done as it relates to the designs to be showcased,” said Tenia, who was present at Sunday’s show.
She said she attempted to stop those models from going on stage but was too late. She explained that she had noticed the swimsuit models just as they were preparing to go on to the stage but by the time she had arrived backstage, they were already on.
Reverend Tenia said she proceeded to speak to the event’s organiser about the situation and they, in turn, promised to speak to the offending designer.
There was no attempt at that point, however, to bring the show to a halt.
Guardian Media was unable to get a response from StyleWeek Port-of-Spain yesterday, but on their Facebook page, a picture of one of the controversial designs was posted with the hashtag #getoverit.
Tenia said the fashion shows were not supposed to disrespect the place of worship.
“As folks would have known post-earthquake last year, we had to do a significant amount of repair which was done. But it also catalysed the need for the restoration of the cathedral which is a 200-year-old building which is, in fact, a heritage site. And if anyone comes into the building I think you have to see for yourself, the extent of the restoration to be done and so we also thought it would raise awareness about the need for restoration and also the need for fundraising for said restoration,” she said.
She also defended the use of the church of the fashion show.
“Persons who are creative have always been part of who we are at church. Who are responsible for our baptismal? Who are responsible for our altar...responsible for all of the aesthetic in the church? And so creatives in fashion and design and so are no different. We facilitate other kinds of art forms. So making space for up and coming creatives, making space for others who have been in the business for a while is something we thought could be positive and uplifting and beneficial to everyone,” she said.
Tenia said she attended two of the three fashion shows held at the cathedral over the weekend, only missing the show on Saturday night.
She said it was unfortunate that out of all the designs which were showcased over the weekend, the only one that got major media exposure were the controversial pieces.
“Those are the only photos being circulated. None of the other designer’s designs or none of the other models from any of the other three days or 14 or 13 other designers, their things (haven’t) been shown. The only thing being shown in the media both in print and on social media is the one person who disregarded the guideline,” she said.
The Trinidad and Tobago Council of Evangelical Churches was among the groups condemning what it called the “desecration of a holy place”.
It issued a statement saying, “The Trinidad and Tobago Council of Evangelical Churches views with alarm the hosting of a fashion show at the Trinity Cathedral last week. It affirms that the allowing of the altar of God to be used as a fashion runway is a desecration of a sacred place. In effect, the house of God is a place of worship and of prayer, a sacred place and therefore, ought not to be used for any other purpose.”
It added, “Matthew 21:12-13 makes this clear. It recounts Jesus’ anger at the use of his temple for gambling and the marketing of goods. It states, “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’ In other words, to reiterate, the church is a sacred place, a place of prayer and of worship. It has been set aside strictly for the worshipping of God, for prayer. It is not to be used for any other purpose.”
“It is also clear, from the verse above, that God is not pleased when his house is treated disrespectfully. Therefore, this fashion show ought not to have been allowed at the cathedral. It was a desecration of God’s house of prayer and worship, and therefore, in contravention of the word of God.”
However, Reverend Clifford Rawlins of the Diego Martin United Church questioned the source of the uproar, as he pointed out, “If people can wear swimsuits at the beach and, the whole earth is the Lord’s where nothing is hidden from him, then why not in a human-made church building used for a secular purpose?’
He also questioned if religious beliefs from other faiths such as Islam and Hinduism informed the reaction to the event.
He said, “We ought not look at one through the eyes and lenses of another. That one ought to be seen and heard for oneself. But unfortunately things can become too confused in the cross-threading of value systems and many get lost in the all too ready hurl of social media obsecrations and deprecations.”
The three fashion shows, come just over a month and a half since the church hosted a charity boat ride to aid with the restoration.