At midday in the Vinaròs Fishermen's chapel I celebrated my final Eucharist with people from all three of the Costa Azahar chaplaincy congregations, as this was a fifth Sunday service, when they combine in one place. When I was here in July 2012 the same service was held out at the Ermita de San Sebastian that I visited on Friday. There were twenty present on this occasion, about half the number of four years ago. Sadly that signifies the difference between having a permanent chaplain and a succession of locum chaplains. People need continuity, they need a pastor they can bond with, and work with in a long term relationship. No matter how much energy a locum priest invests in the role, the fact of being transient works against anyone relating to them in depth. People are welcoming and appreciative for the ministry they receive, but for survival as a community, maintaining their bonds with each other must come first.
I've remarked on previous occasions about how often when officiating at funerals, and even weddings, hardly anyone wants to speak with the minister once the ceremony is over, once they have said their formal thank-you. So often families and friends are gathering for a one-off event and playing catch up, maintaining relationships with people they know which have been on hold for years, as they have scattered far and wide to work and live.
It's a far cry from the days of my youthful ministry, working with people who lived and worked in the same local community, many of whom I knew, and they knew who I was. In those days people would chat with the priest and include them in conversations, but nowadays the officiating minister is as much of a stranger to the gathering as is the funeral director or chauffeur. The mission of the church is to help people build community and make right relationships. In order to do so, its ministry doesn't have to be the centre of attention for any longer than is needed. Being there, doing the right thing to help build and working oneself out of a job is the type of service any kind of locum duty involves, engaging as fully as possible, but also being able to detach and not generate dependency.
So you need to have a life of your own, and interests other than the task. I remember someone saying when I worked as a mission educator "Every missionary needs a hobby.", which is why a camera and computer go with me wherever I travel, to help me reflect on experiences and discoveries in different places I visit.
Anyway, with this in mind, after lunch today I drove to the south side of the Ebro Delta, something which so far I'd not got around to doing. It's nearer and more accessible than the north side, so during previous stays I went there several times. It was hot, and I didn't want to be out for long as there was still bag packing to complete. So I drove from Sant Carles de la Rapita to the sea, past the Tancada Lake visitor centre, then along the beach road where I knew there was an excellent viewing point. On the journey there, I listened to Act One of Wagner's 'Götterdämmerung' on RNE Clasico from Bayreuth, with introductions made in Spanish, French, English and German, a truly European broadcast. I seem to recall listening to a similar broadcast of the Ring cycle when driving through the Delta, on a previous occasion. An epic soundtrack to accompany this special farewell journey.
The Deltebre is an area which conveys a wonderful sense of space, with its long straight roads, vast paddy fields of rice flourishing, but not yet ripening. With different varieties growing in adjacent areas, there are different shades of green, creating a subtle patchwork, and at the edges of fields where the irrigation channels run, red or yellow bog irises grow in numbers, their presence providing a vivid ribbon of colour in contrast to sky and fields. There's a scattering of small trees, often associated with the houses, and occasionally a huge eucalyptus punctuating the landscape and bringing variety to it.
Few flamingos were visible today, sadly. I didn't get many decent bird photos as there didn't seem to be many visible, maybe hiding from the heat. It was too early for them to gather in large numbers for the evening feed, but I did snap a sanderling, a redshank and a black winged stilt, each solitary What did please me was a succession of dragonfly photos, each parked atop a severed stalk of grass in the same location, different kinds too! It was a lovely way to conclude my stay here.
And then, back to the packing and cleaning.