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Priest turns model for a day

The Rev. Michelle Childs-Ward models the 'anti-suit' by designer Jana Kalous.

By Stuart Mann

A shopping trip to a woman’s clothing store in Toronto has led an Anglican priest to become a model for a Canadian fashion designer, with her pictures appearing in ads in Toronto Life and the Globe and Mail.

“It’s a very odd experience for me to open a magazine or click on a website and see my face there,” says the Rev. Michelle Childs-Ward, incumbent of St. John, Weston. “It’s exciting, exhilarating, and a little bit disconcerting.”

After buying some clothes at Kaliyana, a fashion boutique on Yonge Street, Ms. Childs-Ward got a call from a member of the staff, wanting to know if she would be willing to have her picture taken for a possible photo shoot.

A fan of the Kaliyana clothing line, she agreed to give it a try. Soon after her picture was taken, she got a call from the designer herself, Jana Kalous, asking her if she would like to model the new line of clothes for fall, including the designer’s “anti-suit,” an avant-garde creation in black and white.

“I was on my holiday and I thought, ‘Why not?’ So I decided to do it,” she says. “It was loads of fun.”

She admits to being “incredibly nervous” as she drove to the photo shoot, which took place in a studio warehouse on Eastern Avenue. She had never been a model before and didn’t know what to expect. Within minutes, however, the fashion photographer put her at ease. “About five minutes into it, all my fears were gone and I was loving the camera.”

She says being a model is a lot harder than it looks. They had her jumping in the air, climbing up on boxes and perching on ledges. “I was there for about six hours, and when I woke up the next morning, everything hurt.”

When it comes to fashion, there’s a stark difference between being a model and being a priest, she says. “I was modelling all these different outfits, and yet my day-to-day outfit is head-to-toe black with a collar on. The realm of wild fashion in my vocation is usually limited to which shoes I choose to wear with my suits. My street clothes are more artistic: being a disciple of Christ doesn’t mean I can’t also enjoy fashion!”

In addition to the print ads, photos of Ms. Childs-Ward are posted on and They will also feature prominently on posters in Kaliyana stores in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. She will also model the clothes in a video.

She says she would consider being a model again, but only if it fit into her schedule as the incumbent of St. John’s. “I look at it as a fun side hobby. If I have time to do it in my time off, great; if not, I won’t. It was fun, but it isn’t my vocation.”

While modelling, she got a chance to share her faith. An hour into the photo shoot, the photographer asked her if she worked in the fashion industry. When she told him she was an Anglican priest, he couldn’t believe it. That led to a conversation about the church and an opportunity to share her faith.

Others have also taken notice. “A couple of people I hardly know said how cool it is that a priest could model. For them, it was a sign that the church is more hip, more forward-thinking, and more open than they would have thought. In our culture, many non-church people still have this image of the church as being a closed institution—very traditional and not particularly open to change, new ideas, or doing new things. (Modelling) is just one more opportunity to break that viewpoint and fling the doors open and say, ‘Actually, we’re a lot more open-minded and fun than you might think.’ If anything, it has created another way for me to engage people and get them talking and thinking about how living out our faith can be exciting and fun.”

She admits to pushing the boundaries to get people engaged and thinking. “I love living my life a little outside the box. I embrace it. Any opportunity I have to tear down the walls of a box people might put us in, that’s where I want to be. I want to be on the edge, challenging people to see the box doesn’t exist the way they think it does. This modelling experience in the realm of fashion has me considering how I literally model my faith in Jesus Christ in my everyday life.”