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Spain and Portugal!

Posted by Lucy Moore on 08 Feb 2010

Bom dia or should that be buena sera by now? It's 6pm on a February Sunday and I'm typing this on the patio of a house in southern Spain in a skimpy top and a cardigan: at home I need four layers of wool on top of a substantial vest, preferably combined with a hot water bottle and a mug of tea at this time of year. I fly back tomorrow: it's going to be tough.

Last week I joined the Archdeaconry of Gibraltar at their synod in the Algarve. I have to confess to knowing very little about the Diocese of Europe apart from exotic adverts in the Church Times wanting vicars in places like Tenerife or Casablanca (I jest not), which would be thrust under my husband Paul's nose with pleas that he would be called to somewhere similarly sunny next time we move. It hasn't happened yet. But at the synod, there were people with badges that together would have formed the best part of a Thompson's Holiday Brochure: Gibraltar, Canarias, Malaga, Barcelona... It was very hard not to squeal excitedly at everyone and tell them how lucky they are to live there.

Which of course is a decision many of them have deliberately made, and it's not always easy to be a British ex-pat living abroad, and certainly not easy to be a vicar of these highly individual congregations. Congregation members of a chaplaincy are often quite elderly, may be away in other parts of the world for long periods, can be very scattered and have to travel miles to their nearest Anglican church. A minister might manage only one visit to a parishioner in an afternoon, as distances are so huge. Certainly communications and face-to-face meetings across an area that stretches from northern Spain to northern Africa (and that's just one archdeaconry) are a challenge.

I had the enormous privilege of presenting Messy Church to the synod. As I'd been up since 2 a.m., I don't know that I was at my peak, but everyone was very interested and responsive. I doubt that pipe-cleaners have often been seen at synod meetings in the past, and in an hour we covered a lot of ground, inviting discussion about the whole Fresh Expressions movement and the principles and practice of Messy Church itself. I got the impression that even though the idea of Messy Church appealed to many people who have a great heart for families of ex-pats it would need considerable rethinking to work in this different context. It will be interesting to see if there are any developments once synod members have had time to report back to their respective churches. If nothing else I was able to assure them of our prayers for them and ask them for their prayers for Messy Churches and for BRF. As I was around for another day, there was the chance to have spontaneous mealtime conversations with people like the Dean of Gibraltar and to ponder with him the idea of a Messy Cathedral in Gibraltar sometime...

I travelled on with two synod members to the Costa del Sol, a journey which should have taken about five hours and which we managed to stretch out (gracias, Sat-Nav) via Seville Centre and some interestingly convoluted and precipitous country roads to some eight hours. I arrived at a village near Malaga and was taken to the house of some friends of BRF. Surrounded by Debbie and Stephen's generous hospitality, nobly spurning the temptation of lounging by the pool for the day, we headed off on Saturday to a small but quality Messy Fiesta with members of different English- and Spanish-speaking churches in the area. Again, a good chance to think how the principles of Messy Church might take root even if a standard monthly 'package' might be difficult in this context.

I finished off my tour of duty by preaching at the all-age service at Alhaurin el Grande on the calming of the storm, meeting some old friends from Portsmouth and making some new ones in the form of enthusiastic children who created the storm for us all out of a swathe of blue cloth. It's been an eye-opener that the family of the church really does spread its arms out to welcome its children wherever we are in this world, and it's been a great privilege to share these few days with so many of its far-flung members. And just as Jesus was in that boat with his disciples, I've felt his presence in every place I've been to, quiet, but powerful: I wonder what he will do with the thoughts, prayers and inspirations of so many wonderful people from so far afield?