Reproduced from the September 2017 issue of Roquetta, Menorca’s English language magazine.
“This is really about Menorca,” said one of the local Roman Catholic clergy in the heat of fiesta celebrations a couple of years ago. His point was that although the fiesta celebrations remain attached to the Catholic culture of saints and their patronage, the exuberance of celebration is about the spirit of community of Menorca and of its constituent towns and pueblos.
I thought about those words this year as I sat in the church of El Roser in Es Castell, having been invited to participate in the service of Vespers on the evening of the fiesta of Sant Jaume (Santiago, Saint James). Looking out at the assembled worshippers I felt a deep sense of appreciation for this symbol of inclusion in the community in which we live and practise our ministry.
Following the fiesta mass the next morning, there was the customary procession from the church to the Esplanada with the band, the Caixers and the local dignitaries. It is easy to feel swept up in the spirit of joyfulness, especially when, after the Jaleo, the band plays something other than the traditional tune, and thousands of happy revellers dance and sing while they are sprayed with water!
I know that there are those who have lived in Menorca for a long time who longer find any novelty in the fiesta celebrations, or find them overwhelming. This is not limited to immigrants. I spoke to the man who tends the garden behind Santa Margarita afterwards. I told him that I like the atmosphere in Es Castell for “Gloriòs Sant Jaume.”
“So do I,” he responded. “But my wife does not, so she makes me go to Punta Prima. ¡Que desastre!”
A few days later, the Menorca Cricket Club held its second “Party on the Pitch,” which was even better than the first, a year before. Again, in a different way, there was not only excellent entertainment, but a feeling of belonging, of community.
It is a reflection of our times that this experience of community occurs less and less in traditional ways in our society. Families are often scattered. People move to different locations, often because employment leads them away. We saw this walking across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago: whole villages were bereft of their young people, with just a few jubilados whose entertainment seemed to be to watch the passing pilgrims. We see it in Menorca, when young people find that for educational, or career reasons, they need to leave the island.
Because of this increased mobility, neighbours often do not know each other as they would have done in a village community a century or even fifty years ago, and as a result, people feel an increasing sense of isolation. The internet and social media help, but this is not the same as the physical presence and intergenerational experience that would have been more common for previous generations.
As a result, people will seek ways to experience community. British immigrants in Menorca have the luncheon clubs, Probus, cricket, bowls, pub quizzes and various other ways in which a spirit of community is fostered. In many places, churches, synagogues, temples and mosques offer an experience of community, and more than many other groups, they are able to transcend generational boundaries. And, let’s be quite honest about this, one role of the church in Menorca has been to foster community.
This has to be recognised as a real benefit in an era of individualism and the isolation that can result. Forming connections with one another across boundaries of age, origin, or social standing is important. However, as I said in a sermon recently, Christian faith does not have as its underpinning foundation the idea that Jesus needed to be crucified to form a social club.
I have served several Anglican congregations in the last 17 years. Each of these communities of faith has reminded me in its own way of the importance in our current world of finding community – but not just for social purposes, although those are important. There is something more about a community of faith.
A church also has the responsibility to address the spiritual needs of its members, to guide and shape them to explore and understand their faith and then to enact it in the world; to take beliefs and live them out authentically in the world around. A community of faith should be a place where it is possible to voice one’s words of doubt and question, because they are the making of faith. Connecting with one another in God’s spirit is a blessing. We may find that, indeed, there is more to unite us than divide us.
We are social creatures, and we need to belong to a community. Once we feel a secure sense of belonging to the local groups that satisfy this sense, we are more likely to be able to explore the sense of community on a larger scale. The fiestas might be “about Menorca,” but a Menorquin with a well-grounded sense of community may be better able to seek connections and a spirit of community on a broader scale.