ST JOSEPH, ornate and gilded, presides over the gathering
worshippers. The Queen of Heaven smiles down benignly from a
windowsill, wrapped in a billowing swathe of lace. Two dwarf palm
trees in pots stand incongruously in front of the sedilia,
flanked by a vase of pink oleander. A tabernacle graces the high
altar; and a confessional, door firmly closed, huddles in a dark
Something is odd. There is not a biretta in sight; no soutanes
or dangling rosaries, and only the merest hint of long-dispersed
incense. And where are the richly caparisoned priests, the
acolytes, and the thurifer? Instead, pinstripe suits and golfing
blazers fill the pews, and a row of sandalled feet and legs in
shorts occupy the back row. A sidesman, with a distinctive Home
Counties greeting, hands me Hymns Ancient and Modern. A
clergyman in a Sarum cassock adjusts his glasses, and flips the
pages of the lectern Bible.
This is the Church of the Immaculate Conception on the Spanish
Costa, whose priest, in a generous act of interdenominational
hospitality, has lent his church for the weekly Anglican eucharist.
Suddenly church unity does not seem such a distant goal.
THERE must be 80-plus worshippers here, and I take my hat off to
them; for tracking down the church was a marathon. Hotel Reception
looks at me perplexed.
"English service?" she shakes her head. "But this is Spain,
where we have Catholic masses."
The tourist office produces a leaflet concluding with an
enigmatic note in brackets. ("Church of England eucharist 12
p.m."). No location is given. The challenge to find it is on. We
wend our way through narrow streets, heavy with the scent of
half-cured leather handbags, and frying chips "para
levar", to take away. Tapas bars disgorge tables, chairs, and
customers on to seething pavements. A fellow in plum-coloured cords
and an M&S sports jacket comes to our aid.
"The Anglican service? It's a bit tucked away I'm afraid. Follow
me. I'm reading the epistle."
We round a corner, pass a shop selling mantillas and flamenco
dresses, and there it is, gleaming white.
JUST recently, there has been a flurry of doom-laden predictions
concerning the future of the Church of England. It is
haemorrhaging. Give it 20 years, and it will cease to exist. Couple
that to the strident atheistic outpourings of the day, and the
gloom sets in. Here in southern Spain, a thousand miles from the
great cathedral of Canterbury, Anglicanism shows no sign of an
Google "Anglican churches in Spain" and you come up with a
staggering 26. These are situated not only in the tourist Costas,
but in the cities of Madrid, Seville, Malaga, Valencia, and
Barcelona. It does not look like sickness unto death.
WE KICK off with "Stand up, stand up for Jesus", accompanied by
a somewhat strident electronic organ, and the rafters ring. There
is no woolly liberalism in the sermon; no humourless
Evangelicalism. We are given an orthodox address, with just a hint
of remonstration aimed at those who consider Christianity an easy
option. Faith demands regular study of the scriptures, and a
selfless following of Christ. We pray for King Philip of Spain; for
the local Roman Catholic priest and his congregation; and for the
During the Peace, I have a sudden conviction that the Church of
England is indestructible, God-filled, and redoubtable. All these
worshippers have turned their backs on sunbeds, lazy lie-ins,
precious days of holiday, and litres of San Miguel beer to worship
God. The Holy One is their Sunday priority, and I find it immensely
We sing the last triumphant verse of "Praise, my soul, the King
of heaven", and the sanctuary party proceeds to the west end. For
an incredible moment, I think we are about to break into the Regina
Coeli - but no: it is the notices. The Mothers' Union has a speaker
coming from the British Consulate in Madrid: don't miss it. The
Anglican charity shop desperately needs hot-water bottles, a
commodity as rare as water in the Gobi desert.
I shake hands with the priest and thank him. Behind me, our Lady
still smiles mysteriously. Out in the blazing sunshine, a bevy of
little Spanish girls dance by in frilly skirts and dazzlingly white
embroidered tops, black hair tumbling.
Who says the Church of England is moribund? Here in this distant
outpost, a three-hour flight from Birmingham International, it is
alive and kicking.
The Revd David Bryant is a retired priest living in