Saturday, 30 June 2012

On organised scripture reading

Today was really hot - 30 degrees again - I walked to the nearest shop, washed some clothes, took a few photos of a beach I discovered nearby, but otherwise stayed out of the heat and prepared the selection of liturgical readings for next three months. My philosophy is, if you have time on your hands, find a task that consumes time and patience. Doing fiddly detailed stuff, consuming little energy if you're not under pressure to meet deadlines, may not be a pleasure, but it's satisfying when completed.

In the days of my youth we had a set liturgy, few options for readings and prayers, and that was dull to a generation hungry for new experiences and insights into Christian tradition. First the CofE's 2 year ASB lectionary, plus the allure of the new R.C. lectionary offered us a whole new world of systematic public scripture reading and preaching. The thinking behind the R.C. lectionary proved influential for an international pan Protestant group of biblical scholars and liturgists, whose published work in the mid- 1990's, with the subsequent authorisation for use of their work in Anglican, Methodist, United Reform and Presbyterian Churches across the globe, has brought about a change in liturgical usage, to my mind,  more radical and sweeping in scope than anything else since the Reformation.

The lectionary is a practical statement about the value of 'sacred seasons' - the idea that Christians, like their Jewish forebears use the time of year as a cue for remembering significant events in the story of relationships between God ad humankind. The three year cycle of readings acknowledges the riches of biblical material to sustain a re-visiting of the same significant events from a different angle of approach, determined by the narrative of the first three Gospels. John's Gospel is so radically different in its art of expression and affirmations about Jesus, its content is threaded equally through all three years.

Rome deserves credit for its creativity in setting the framework and essential content.  The rest of the churches have tinkered and adapted the scheme to local need and context, without making fundamental changes to content or interpretation. This is a positive statement about ecumenical consensus on the essentials of Christian faith - the valuable richness of the Word of God in holy scripture, which all are prepared to work with and apply to their lives. Albeit over three years, more variety of scripture is read publicly when worshippers are most likely to listen to it nowadays, that at any other time in history.

The freedom for which Christ set us free doesn't grant us permission to enforce the universal use of any such scheme of readings. Churches which don't see the need to use it, or never discuss with preachers how they make their scripture reading choices, maybe owe others a decent explanation for rejecting such a helpful resource. It may be a little difficult to use on times, but that makes you think hard, and work on the whole question of what you want to say about the things of God to those who are still prepared to listen to you.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Alcossebre visit

I made my first expedition to Alcossebre today, as the 'El Camino', the church drop-in centre was open, and I wanted to see for myself what it was like. It's a three quarter hour journey from Vinaròs down the N350 coastal trunk road, much used by HGV traffic. If you want to get there faster you pay to use the motorway. It was impossible not to notice the occasional garden chair with sunshade parked close to the roadside or a lay-bay, decorated with a scantily clad young lady offering an alternative to the standard kind of 'service station' to gentlemen of the road. I'd noticed this phenomenon as we left Reus airport Tuesday last. Apparently the mobile 'trade' is dominated by Eastern European sex slaves, and the police are much exercised in containing it.

The church community in Alcossebre was the original congregation to develop on the Costa Azahar, and they decided to open a small shop as a drop in centre. It's just off one of the main streets, and was previously a computer retailer. With a lot of hard work, it was beautifully kitted out with kitchen and servery facilities for serving refreshments and lots of bookshelves for re-cycling English language paperbacks - always a great asset in support of expatriates. Sunday worship takes place in the nearby Parish Church of San Cristobal, courtesy of an hospitable Parish Priest. It was shut for siesta when I was there so I have to wait until next Sunday to see it for myself. The good thing is that 'El Camino' is always available for meetings, as well as the offering hospitality Tuesdays and Fridays 11.00am till 2.00pm.
While I was there I again met Phil Cornelius and his wife Pat, one of the wardens, who live nearby. When I was about to drive home, I was grateful to call on Phil's assistance, as the car failed to start. I couldn't find a way to switch off the auto-immobiliser, that he kicked in by accident because I had, by force of habit from using an 18 year old VW Golf at home, used the key to open the car mechanically, rather than electronically. The best solution lay in a system reboot, and fortunately we were able to disconnect and re-connect the battery to achieve this, as a rather tight fit battery terminal didn't need a screwdriver or spanner to work loose and break contact - and in the middle of siesta, we had no tools to hand. I felt so sorry about invading Phil's time, as I know he was in the process of preparing for a local fund raising event later that afternoon. Thankfully, he was most gracious and uncomplaining about it.

In the course of my visit I learned that the recently retired chaplain, Revd Paul Needle, still lives locally, when he's not in the UK or elsewhere in the Diocese in Europe as Communications Officer. Best thing of all was, I discovered he's a jazz pianist, scheduled to play a gig at at nearby seafront bar tonight. I was a bit un-nerved by the car experience, so felt the need to go home, rather than hit the beach until sundown, and wait for the music to begin. Crossing my fingers there'll be another opportunity.
I drove straight home without incident. With fish and veg to eat, I didn't need to go to the shops. Just as well, they were all shut, as today is the fiesta of the other big local patron saint San Pedro - the original fisher of men. So nice to be in a place where these things still matter.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Auto adventure

This evening, I decided to take the chaplain's Ford Escort diesel out for a spin for the first time, feeling that after two days I was once more getting used to traffic running on the other side of the road. I drove out on to the by-pass road and visited the Vinaròs Carrefour hypermarket, where I hunted down a bargain pair of sandals, two third the price of ones I couldn't find in my size at Cardiff's big Tesco, before I left.

On my triumphant return journey, I followed the route taken by Michael when showing me around town after yesterday's church council. I re-discovered the location of the hospital, and the route home via the town centre. The terrain around here is quite flat. Learning to navigate locally is less than instinctive, as landmarks are more important to me than signposts for finding my way around. Gradually my mental map of the area is evolving, and my confidence to 'boldly go' where I haven't been before. The feeling is quite delicious. What shall I do tomorrow?

A gift of little fishes

Despite the heat, I slept sweetly, and after breakfast, made my way, camera in hand, to 'el Portico' on foot, tracing the route Michael took by car when we came into town together yesterday, along the sea front to take some photos. Over the past decade, and particularly when living through Cardiff city centre redevelopment, I've learned to decode my environment through the camera lens, asking what I want to tell people about this place, with whatever I can show and tell succintly.

Vinaròs has had a huge amount of recent investment in infrastructure and enhancement of the public realm, all along the sea front from the dried up Rio Cervol, the effective town/suburban boundary to the main port and beyond. There's a distinctively modern unity in design which covers all the street furnishings, and large areas of promenade that can be closed off, as they are now, to use for fun fairs open air concerts and street sports events. I was told that the beautiful, well managed sandy beaches are a modern creation with imported sand covering the natural pebbles. Well, it looks good, and no doubt the sand suppliers are pleased with themselves. 
 Adjacent to the north end of the promenade is around a quarter of  square kilometre of empty land, fenced in waiting to be developed, affected doubtless by the recession, as elsewhere. The section closest to buildings, adjacent to the main road into the centre has two giant tents on it temporarily, for fiesta time, but everywhere else is covered, pleasantly enough, with yellow coarse grass, awaiting the return of bulldozers and pile drivers.
Fiesta here is very much a local event, signalling the beginning of the holiday season, but the crowds have yet to arrive, as school terms aren't yet ended, to permit the annual mass migration of Spaniards, let alone foreign birds of passage, to the seaside. How will this be affected by the current financial crisis is yet to be seen.
There were fewer than usual visitors to this morning's drop in session at 'The Portico', which I attended, and fewer people around town generally. The reason was not apparent until someone remarked that they'd seen fishing boats leaving port, laden with passengers. It's a local custom at fiesta time for fishermen to take local people out for a trip along the coast - one of those 'must do' things, no doubt.

A young man passed by with a cool box full of fresh small fish for sale. For five Euros, he wanted to sell me the remains of what he had, but it seemed more than I could deal with. I said I only needed half a kilo, but I got a good kilo of fish in a plastic bag, and twice as much again remained in his box. When I asked him 'Quanto es?', he shook his head and said 'Nada' - he had spotted my clerical gear and was feeling generous to the padre. Now I know what Buddhist monks must feel like.

I took the fish home, and cooked half of the smallest ones for lunch. They were too small to be whitebait, and may have been baby sardines. They would have been better if I'd gutted, topped and tailed them first. So then I set about preparing the lot for future feasts.  I picked five big sardines out of the bag, another meal, and among the small fry there were also four baby mackerel, their stomachs turgid with small fry - the bigger fish prey upon the smaller ones from the very start. 
EC fishing laws stipulate undersized fish must be thrown back, not brought to market, although this defies common sense, as netting may kill them anyway. It was meant to be a means to fend off stock depletion, but it hasn't worked. Banning fine nets when fishermen have invested in them heavily is a recipe for revolt. Other more sensible, enforceable conservation methods have to be developed. The portion of catch not brought to market, it seems, comes to shore and is sold cheaply to informal street traders. It's not a marketable product for a busy householder, since preparation for cooking is long and fiddly, as I discovered. For some poor people, little fish make the difference between eating and not eating, or a little extra cash on top of social benefits, if there are any.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Meeting the team

In all my years, I don't ever recall having attended a church council meeting at a morning hour. But there's a first time for everything, and this was it, admittedly at a decent ten thirty start time. This was an occasion when the representatives of all three chaplaincy congregations come together to report back to each other, and make whatever decisions are needed touching upon all of them. It gave me a chance to meet worship leaders and church officers, people with whom I shall be working closest in the coming months. The gathering is at a time most suitable for  moving around, before it gets too hot to think or work hard. Temperatures are thirty centigrade by day, then twenty three at night.

A dozen of us met in the Vinaròs church centre, 'The Portico' on the edge of the fishing port. It serves as a regular midweek drop-in centre for socialising among English speaking people, and general interface with the wider public. It is also used for worship, and equipped as a chapel. A cuppa and a piece of cake are available along with conversation. Decent second hand clothes and English books are on offer. It's both a place of worship and a church embassy.
Regulations covering such registered social premises, require that nothing is bought or sold, but donations may be received for items taken instead. It was the just same down in Nerja where the chaplaincy has a drop-in centre when we were there last year. Alcossebre and L'Ampolla, the other two congregations each has their own drop in centre serving their local needs. I suspect there are other chaplaincies in Spain which also operate in this way. How marvellous it would be if there was a means for workers in each chaplaincy to exchange ideas with their counterparts elsewhere.

I returned to the Vicarage for lunch, after a drive around town with Michael, to enable me to get my bearings. I wasn't tired enough to slumber, so I tinkered in the office and wrote a Sunday sermon. I will preach it twice, and a lay worship leader will read a copy to worshippers at the third worship service of the day. Having to produce a text to share, as opposed to using as a point of reference for my own preaching is new to me. I shall await feedback a little nervously.

Michael and Pamela invited me for supper. The live about a mile away, and with clear instructions I was able to walk there and back, except that the streets are labelled still with alphabetic letters and not street names. There is no logic to the order, and I had no map and no phone to call for guidance, but eventually I found Calle LL, #1 - but not before I had explored Calle L, J and K en route.

We ate a lovely meal of which the star was slow cooked pig's cheek, something of a rarity in Britain, and we drank with relish a Catalan wine, of Garnacha and a local grape I'd never heard of. There's a lot more to discover than the nuances of Cava. So many new experiences to delight in, plus an end to the day on Skype with my Best Beloved.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Settling in

We arrived at Reus fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, having flown at what must have been the highest altitude allowed for a commercial jet. I've only seen the world below look so small on transcontinental flights. The cloud cleared from Bordeaux onward to allow a superb view of a Pyrenees. Reus airport is small and undeveloped by ordinary standards, with just one runway and three baggage carousels, and a quarter of a mile walk from the aircraft around several large building to reach the terminus. Apparently few flights arrive here outside the holiday season. It reminded me of flying to Hania in Crete back in the nineties.

Michael and Pamela Cowdery met me, and we drove along the motorway south as far as the turn off for Vinaròs, and then made our way along the coastal road to the Chaplain's residence (aka Vicarage), a well appointed new build three bedroomed house in a terrace of four, just five years old. Once they'd showed me around they kindly left me to sort myself out. After I had phoned home, I went out in search of the nearest shop to get some additional provisions - the kitchen had been left well stocked, but I fancied some fresh vegetables to cook with. I couldn't find the local shops, and so ended up walking into Vinaròs town centre, where I found a traditional greengrocer open with everything I was hankering after.

On my way I discovered that the house is only five minutes walk from two different beaches, and twenty minutes walk from town. There's a week long fiesta going on at the moment in celebration of the town's two patron saints - St John the Baptist and St Peter. There's a huge noisy funfair in a sea front park which can be heard from home, and goes on until late. From here on, the holiday season begins.

After a round trip of over three miles I cooked a sort of paella topped with salt cured sardinas for protein and flavouring, a little like anchovies. It was gone ten thirty by the time I sat down to eat, and a meal was most welcome. The ritual of cooking something as soon as I arrive in a new place rather than eating out  goes back many years with me, probably to teenage scouting expedition days. 

I'm here, and there'll be a lot to pick up in the first few days. We start tomorrow morning when I get to be introduced to the church council.

Getting ready to go

After visiting Amanda and James in Bristol Sunday aftternoon, we dined out at one of Cardiff's best Indian restaurants - Cardamom, opposite St Luke's in Canton. Most enjoyable. So glad I left myself the whole of Monday as clear day for packing and other preparations for my duty spell in Spain. So many things to think about. It meant that I could work through all my last minute nerves and anxieties, and relax a bit over another pleasant supper at home with Clare.

It was dark by the time I remembered that I hadn't stowed bike in the shed. I regret leaving it that late because it was a real fiddle to achieve in the dark. Clare announced at breakfast this morning that the front door was open. It had been all night. I'd failed to slam it shut after taking the bike through, and not noticed when I brought my luggage downstairs just before midnight. Just think, a passing rogue might had walked in and made off with all my working kit. The would really have sabotaged things. But for once it seems, the angels were keeping watch over my plans.

The journey to the airport, and check-in were as smooth as they possibly could be. Now I'm waiting the full two hours for boarding, as I didn't have to sue up any of the slack built into my journey to all for possible delays and queues. The BT 3G wireless dongle is slow and keeps on dropping out. It's the worst possible advertisement for what should be a flagship service.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

The flight game

This morning. I nervously negotiated Ryanair's website to check in for my flight to Spain next Tuesday, and download my boarding pass. Over the past twenty years I have got to know EasyJet's website routines quite well. Booking and checking in for flights has become easy - not least because I know what to disregard of the volume of information and promotions conveyed by the web pages.

Ryanair presents the same things in its own way, and adds in a few extra promotions and caveats, so I've had to inspect each page carefully to make sure I don't miss something or end up buying something I don't need. It's not a pleasant experience. But at least now I have my boarding pass, with the essential rules of the flight game printed on it.

Following Kath's recommendation I listened to a couple of episodes of 'Coffee Break Spanish' this afternoon. At the moment I'll use every kind of language input to keep up the learning stimulus, and my enthusiasm for using it to get by in everyday life in the place I'll be living.