Michael and Pamela took me to church in Vinaròs this morning, where I met the congregation of a dozen and a half over Morning Prayer. As with all highly mobile communities of people working out their lives in more than one place, numbers fluctuate hugely. It doesn't affect morale, however. Motivation to meet remains high, and members are habitually supportive of each other, as far as they are can be. Musical accompaniment to the hymns was provided by one euphonium player. There was an electronic keyboard as well, but on this occasion nobody to play. Not that it mattered. A single warm brass voice to lead worked well and people sang lustily.
After the service, ex-Chaplain Paul Needle and his wife arrived. We had coffee together, then they drove me to the chaplaincy's Catalonian outpost in the fishing port of L'Ampolla - another three quarters of an hour to the north of Vinaròs. Half a dozen people at the service I took had driven an hour and a half from Alcossebre to be at the chaplaincy Eucharist of the day. This says a great deal about the value people place on church life that enables them to sustain their personal identity and sense of vocation. I wish more peole in UK were aware of how people in the diaspora are willing to put time, energy and finance into discipleship without expecting it all to be provided within a mile or so of where they live.
OK, I know that's not fair, because Britain's network of places of worship, so many of them ancient, are part of cultural and social infrastructure, as well as offering a spiritual environment. Nobody wants to see that patrimony wither away, yet that's what happens in places blighted by modern mobility trends. Too many places needing to be sustained by too few faithful people.
Is Spain any different? Not really, as secularistion is also a concern here. What's precious is recognition by the Spanish Catholic hierarchy of the Anglican community presence, and a willingness on the part of many clergy to say 'mi casa es tu casa', and hand over a set of keys for use of their building for Anglican worship - and advertising it ! Yes, it happens all over Europe. It always must be for pastoral reasons, as a local concession, but this has deep roots in a universal spirit of hospitality and partnership in the Gospel.
Here in L'Ampolla, Anglican services, once fortnightly, are advertised alongside Catholic ones, in a barrio Church dedicated to St John the Baptist (which made me very happy), right next to the main railway line in the middle of town. We had to take breaks during the service to counter overwhelming noise from passing express trains. It reminded me of Easter locum duties back in the nineties down in the Ticino at St Edward's, in Lugano.
The congregation lunched together in a port restaurant after the service. All went well until the rain came down fiercely and copiously after the first course, to the point that we had to abandon our outdoor tables and gaze with amazement at the monsoon beyond. We ended up with our main courses in take-away boxes as it was impossible to continue - tables in the interior of the restaurant were all occupied. So we made our way back to Vinaròs, clutching the remains of our lunches. By the time we arrived the skies were clearing and it was a mere eighteen degrees.