After a short night's sleep, the alarm clock jerked me into life at six, allowing just enough time to have breakfast, start the washing machine, and pack some food for the journey home. Michael took me to the station to catch the 7h10 to Barcelona. This departure time, it was completely dark, and I didn't see first light until the train reached Tortosa, what a difference in the six weeks since I last made this journey. For much of the time, I dozed - first on the train, then during the two hour wait in the departure lounge at El Prat airport, then on the plane, and on the train back to Cardiff, so the late departure and arrival of the flight, and a late train from Bristol didn't have much impact on me. The big surprise was that the sun was shining in a cloudy sky when we arrived. A brisk wind was blowing, and everybody groaned when the aircraft door was opened and it gusted into the cabin.
I arrived home exactly twelve hours after leaving Vinaròs. Despite a pile of mail to deal with, and unused computers to update around the house, I'm glad to be back again, with happy memories, not to mention photos, and all the reminiscences posted in this blog over the past three months. When I shut my eyes, vivid colours of the Costa Azahar landscape and seashore swirl in my imagination like a kaleidoscope. The region has made a great impact on me with towns and villages boasting a history that stretches back into antiquity, and high limestone crags, eroded for millennia by just wind and rain creating dramatic vistas and challenging mountain roads. Just my sort of country.
But for me, the fresh discovery of my sojourn has been the Delta de l'Ebre, its running waters, its salt lakes, its foreshore, and its fields of rice growing through summer into autumn harvest time, with all the many subtle changes of colour that entails. I won't forget the flamingos, herons and egrets, but it was the terns, hovering over water channels a few metres away from the road, or offshore equally, diving for fish, which touched me, perhaps because it connected me with the Severn Estuary close to home.
It wasn't an easy time to be a locum pastor, with so many people in the three congregations either coming and going over the summer, or inevitably preoccupied with their own visitors. They were all so much looking forward to their new chaplain arriving. I didn't expect to turn from sharing their joys to sharing their disappointment and uncertainty about the future when he had to withdraw quite unexpectedly. News of his arrival meant that I re-arranged my autumn plans to make way for him. It meant I was no longer be available to stay beyond two extra weeks, and accompany the chaplaincy through the next stage of interregnum. A part of me regrets not being able to be there for them. But two things I have learned about ministry - nobody is indispensible, and conscientious missionaries work themselves out of a job when the time is right. And the timing is never in their hands.
The faithful Anglicans of the Costa Azahar chaplaincy are a credit to their church, supporting and caring for each other, building community with an unusual Christian identity, respected and valued by an indigenous church with historic origins even older than those of the church in Britain. I hope arrangements for a new locum can be made and the process of making a fresh chaplain appointment is expedited without further delay. With declining numbers available to recruit from both serving and retired clergy, this cannot be easy for those in authority. To people on the ground, delay can feel like a matter of life and death overshadowing all they've strived so hard to create over the years. But the Spirit of God has already breathed life into this emerging church.
Where the Gospel is still preached, by whomsoever is able to preach it, others will gather to listen and pray, and the Spirit will continue to move in times of vulnerability as much as in times of confidence and success. "I will not fail you or forsake you ...." (Hebrews 13:5, quoting Deuteronomy 31:8) is one of those promises of scripture to hang on to in times like these.
Tomorrow, it's back to College to meet new students, acclimatising, and slipping back into routine, not quite the way I was three months ago, but imperceptably richer for the experience and the story I have to tell of my Spanish Sojourn.
Thanks to all whose curiosity has drawn them to this page. My regular blog resumes as soon as I have something worth writing about.
From here you can reach the page 'West of the Centre'