Sunday, 25 September 2016

Singing in Velez and a reflection on the BCP

It was my last assignment of this tour of duty this morning, so I was out of the house and on my way by nine thirty for a celebration of the Eucharist at Velez Malaga, with a congregation of two dozen. I didn't have trouble with the route to my destination this time, although I did have to drive three times around the one way system in the side streets before I found a parking spot reasonably near. Some find it easier to use a parking area on the opposite side of the main dual carriageway into the town centre, and if you've come from the other side of the centre, this probably makes better sense anyway.

Rebecca and Jean were there, fresh from their pilgrimage, wearing their souvenir Camino de San Juan de Compostela teeshirts, showing specially stamped documents certifying completion of their 125km walk. And they had stories to tell. They looked calm and contented, pleased not to have sore feet at the end of their eight days of walking.

The congregation sang several rousing hymns with enthusiasm, even breaking into harmony several times. The last one 'To God be the Glory' was enjoyed so much there was applause when it was over. Then an impromptu verse of 'Thine be the Glory' was sung for a reprise. So relaxed and natural, it was a real delight to share, a nice memory to take away with me.

This was followed by coffee, a beer and a chat with several church members in the neighbouring bar. One Brit, who'd lived in Germany as well as Spain was lamenting the Brexit vote, as a rejection of all that's been worked for since the end of World War II, also the withdrawal of the franchise from non-resident passport holders with no UK address over the past fifteen years - hundreds of thousands of citizens whose votes could have made a difference to the referendum outcome.

We discussed the Book of Common Prayer a subject of affectionate regard for many brought up on it, even if they concede the need for more contemporary language, and accept this is nowadays the norm. When working with seminarians, I made a point of explaining why it is such a seminal social, cultural and spiritual document, to be taken seriously by all, whether or not they ever use it.

It's a text for a society with Christian roots, respecting the need for a stable orderly framework for hearing scripture systematically and celebrating the sacraments of the universal church. It describes what's most needed for spiritual development. Its theology is a hybrid of traditional and reformed teaching not to everyone's liking, but its life gives witness to an understanding that interpretation of scripture and debate about the meaning of the sacraments isn't closed.

Elizabeth I imposed the use of the BCP by law. Not a good idea, by our standards, but its use survived political upheavals and remained accepted by the majority of British citizens by Act of Parliament. In practice it was adapted and tinkered with, according to local custom and interpretation, but continued nevertheless to be used. Given its political origins as an accepted core text, its survival, and popular affection, is unique.

New insight into the BCP has emerged for me from being with the Malaga Chaplaincy, reading about its origins. The English Cemetery in Malaga was the fruit of decades of diplomatic activity by British Consul William Mark (1824-36). He wasn't ordained, but as a Crown official, took authority to read the Burial Office over protestant citizens who died hereabouts. His pastoral concern for the dead and bereaved led him to a campaign to acquire rights to burial land for non-catholics. He succeeded in 1831. Only in 1846 did the newly appointed first Bishop of Gibraltar come to Malaga to consecrate the cemetery. During that fifteen years, Mark read Sunday Matins and Evensong with Homily for a congregation at the Consulate. No Chaplain was appointed until 1850.

For a quarter of a century Anglican pastoral life here relied entirely on lay ministry, not authorised by the Church Established, but by the Crown and by means of the BCP, with which British citizens could identify, around which they would gather. It's the vehicle of Anglican compromise that matters here more than translatable content. As Anglicans, we seek a form of service to identify with, even if it call for an effort. No matter who bothers to offer a service to start with. Is it recognisable, part of our experience? This makes Prayer Book liturgy, in all its incarnations and translations, a church gathering resource, with or without a minister in charge. All that's needed is someone with pastoral heart and sense of mission to get things started, willing to do what the BCP and its modern interpretations allow.

Having started the train of thought expressed here, I returned to Rincon. Perhaps due to the weekend fiesta, streets and car parks were unusually full for a Sunday. I was relieved to find the last free space in my usual parking area.

Tuna steaks for lunch today, cooked with black olives, cherry tomatoes, loads of garlic and lemon. A small treat to mark my final Sunday duty. Now I have to set my mind to cleaning and tidying up, and packing my bags. I have a 4.30am start on Tuesday morning. Best to be well prepared a day ahead for such an early lift off.

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