Spain: A Case of the Unexpected
The latest addition to my “First Time for Everything” list is my recent trip to Spain to celebrate the 150thanniversary of the Reformed Episcopal Church there. Yes, there are Protestants in Spain. They exist. And they’re doing church in their own way and in their own context the best they can. I’ll spare you the specifics, but funding for the Church in Spain is tricky, so for about as long as UTO has existed, Spain has been, and continues to be, the recipient of several grants to renovate and expand facilities and to try out new ministries.
I had no idea what to expect on this trip. Literally. Every time I asked Heather about the itinerary, she’d say something along the lines of, “We’re doing whatever the bishop wants us to do.” Plus, I had never traveled outside of the U.S. before, so there were a lot of unknowns that I just had to let go of along the way, but I think part of me actually enjoys not being in control in travel situations because it takes the pressure off – granted, I might’ve thought differently during all our travel time in the car – and it opens me up to trusting my guide and experiencing the unexpected.
The purpose of our trip was threefold: celebrate the anniversary of the Church in Spain, visit UTO Grant sites, and evaluate potential for a future UTO Grant site (with some sightseeing, souvenir-buying, and flamenco dancing here and there). It was a “business” trip, but really, it felt more like an extended tour viewed through the lens of a uniquely Anglican Church in a deeply Catholic country.
As I said, I didn’t have many preconceptions about the Church in Spain prior to this trip. I truthfully didn’t know much about the Church at all. (I embarrassingly asked if the Church was “just the cathedral” or if there were other parishes involved. There are.) But what I really didn’t anticipate was the gratitude I’d feel for the deep, sacrificial generosity displayed by the leaders of the Church.
Every person we met who served in the Church was giving all of themselves to their ministries. Rafael, a priest in Reus, is providing refugees and immigrants with hope and a space to build community, all while donning a clown nose and teaching the kids circus acrobatics (yes, acrobatics!). Spencer, the canon to the ordinary, is doing the jobs of 10 people while curating poetry festivals for visiting writers. A Cuban couple in Salamanca is busy running the Anglican Center, which currently houses and feeds a building full of students. A priest at the cathedral takes time out of his schedule to collect food for its Saturday feeding program. And the bishop has basically dedicated his whole life to serving this Church.
Heather preached at a couple of services during our time in Spain, and when she did, she spoke about James and John seeking recognition for their work (which, in a humorous cross-cultural moment, ended up not being the correct lectionary reading but was necessary all the same). The members of Reformed Episcopal Church in Spain don’t get a lot of recognition for the work they do. Every day, they’re caring for pilgrims or addressing the needs of their communities. I am grateful I had the opportunity to celebrate the Church and learn about its ministries, but this trip wasn’t about me. Sure, it was exciting to finally travel outside of the U.S., but we weren’t in Spain for a vacation. We were invited as a physical representation of the friendship between the Reformed Episcopal Church and United Thank Offering, and I hope through that friendship, the Episcopalians in Spain know their work is seen and appreciated. As for me, I’m leaning into the unexpected because sometimes that leads to a circus in Spain.