It's the month of new beginnings - new school and university terms. We usually think it's for the young, not those approaching retirement. Former Black Country vicar, Revd Charmaine Host, asks us to think again.
Seven years ago, almost to the day, I began a course in art and design at the Wolverhampton Adult Education Service. I was six months into a half time post as a vicar of two small parishes when I realised that the only way to work half time was to do something else with the other half of my time. So, with some trepidation I decided upon this new pathway. One day, my tutor came alongside and surprised me with a question; "Charmaine, why are you doing this course? Most people do it because they want to go on to university". I didn’t see that coming. I didn’t know what to say. So, I ventured; "do you think I could do that?" to which he replied, "I’m fully expecting you to". To this day I give thanks for his encouragement.
So it began. In my mature years I began as a part-time undergraduate at the University of Wolverhampton Art School. I was terrified.
To say I was outside of my comfort zone is an understatement. Freshers’ week assaulted me with so many new experiences that one day I just opted out. And yet lying-in bed, convincing myself I would go back the next day, the words of a favourite author Brene Brown came to mind. She would say that on occasions like this, when fear sets in, you must rise strong, face the fear and do it anyway. I knew that if I didn’t go back that day, I may never go back, and I would be missing the opportunity of a lifetime. Besides, I didn’t want to be a university drop out in the first week!
I returned. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. My art degree introduced me to a world I knew little about. My lecturers and tutors were on my side, wanting me to succeed. They comforted my disturbance and would disturb my comfort in equal measure. One day I said to my tutor ‘you are pushing me far outside my comfort zone!’ His twinkling reply was a simple ‘good’. The Art School staff encouraged me to think about what I wanted to say to the world and consider the best way to do it visually. Yes, there were times when I found myself wondering why I was doing this, sometimes I felt lonely and uncertain, but I made new friends and there were opportunities that would never have come had I not taken this road less travelled.
One such was an Art School visit to Berlin with one of the lecturers who is German. As we stood on top of the Reichstag, the German parliament building, peering down through the glass dome he explained that it was to symbolise the needful transparency of government. It felt like I was standing on holy ground.
I have just graduated with a BA (Hons) First Class in Fine Art. It has felt like a gift from God having this opportunity at my time in life, an immense experience of grace. If you have even half a chance to do something similar, grab it with both hands.
Here is a link to my graduate exhibition: https://www.wlv.ac.uk/schools-and-institutes/faculty-of-arts-business-and-social-sciences/degree-show-2022/profiles/charmaine-host/
Image: Charmaine with fellow cleric and Wolverhamtpon University Chaplain, Revd Preb Sarah Schofield