The following article appeared in the July issue of Roqueta, Menorca’s English-language magazine.
A year ago, confronted with an empty computer screen and a lack of inspiration, I went for a walk, from Cala Galdana to Cala Macarella, on to Cala Turqueta, and back along the headlands via Cala Macaralleta. The delightful beauty of the varied island scenery was calming, and inspiring in its own way, even if I did conclude by writing, “I honestly don’t know what to write.” Apparently it took something like 1000 words to come to that conclusion! I should perhaps have taken note of a thought from the biblical Book of Proverbs: “A flood of words is never without its faults.”
Of course, although the column in Roqueta is titled, “Church News,” in recent years it seems to have become a place for the reflections of the chaplain, or maybe rambling thoughts, depending upon various sources of inspiration. This time, there is some news from the church, although it encompasses our neighbours in the Balearics and Barcelona.
In Palma, there is a new chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Ishanesu Gushta. He has moved to Mallorca having served as the Dean of the Cathedral in Harare, Zimbabwe. He introduced himself to the English-speaking community in Mallorca with an article in the Mallorca Daily Bulletin in which he suggested that the Church can and should be a beacon of hope during this time of crisis. Reminding his readers that we are far from being the first generation to be confronted by a deadly pandemic, he quoted from the biblical prophet Ezekiel, with imagery of life being restored to lifeless dry bones. In the prophet’s time the message was directed to the people of Israel, living in exile, to prepare them for a return to their own land, and it was an oracle of hope. Those people of Israel returned to a place that was different from the one that their predecessors had left, having been removed forcibly into exile in Babylon. They had to fashion their own ‘new normal,’ based upon shared recollection and context. The prophet Ezekiel heard a question from God: “Mortal, can these bones live?” The prophet’s answer was: “O God, you know.” And indeed, as Ishanesu wrote, the dry bones of our COVID-afflicted lives can and will live, even if the life restored to those bones will not be exactly as before.
Later this year, new chaplains will arrive in Puerto Pollensa in Mallorca and in Ibiza, putting more flesh on the bones of churches that have in fact been far from lifeless, and there will then, for the first time in several years, be a full complement of chaplains in the Balearics and Northern Spain. I was recently asked to serve as the Area Dean for this region, which means facilitating dialogue between, and mutual support for the clergy and the chaplaincies that they serve. It is a reminder that few of us can live in isolation and that we benefit from being members of a community that understands our situation. And this doesn’t just apply to clergy, of course. Churches, like sports and social clubs, can be places where people find fellowship, understanding and a sense of belonging, together with support and compassion in times of crisis and need. During the past fifteen months I have often reflected upon words that I have spoken to more than one church group: a church should not be simply a social club for like-minded people. But having been deprived of the social aspect of communal worship, we have been reminded that social activity needs to be recognised as something that fulfils a real need, even if that cannot be the only role of the church.
In a separate development, the Church of England has a programme called the Ministry Experience Scheme (MES), which offers young people the opportunity to spend a year in a parish working and observing what life is like as an ordained minister. Each intern is assigned someone to guide them, as well as pastoral mentor, whose role is to listen and support them. The Diocese in Europe has had half a dozen MES interns during the past year, one of whom, Daleen, from the Netherlands, has been in the church of St George in Barcelona, and for whom I have been her pastoral mentor. In other times, we would have met monthly, but COVID has changed all that, so while I did manage one trip to Barcelona, our dialogue has consisted of Zoom conversations every couple of weeks. At the end of May, Daleen was able to visit Menorca and participate in the life of our chaplaincy, and it was a joy to have her with us. If there needed to be evidence that life can be restored to the dry bones of the church, then this group of young people, with their enthusiasm, inquisitiveness, and spiritual energy, has been an oracle of hope. Our Bishop, David Hamid, said of this group of interns: “We have been a richer and more diverse community because of them.”
Perhaps this is what we find in Menorca: that living in a place with calming and inspiring scenic beauty, and doing so as English speaking people in an environment different from that in which most of us grew up, we are part of a richer and more diverse community than we might otherwise be. Perhaps, also, it might open our eyes to appreciate the richness and diversity of our surroundings in a broader context. I can only continue to give thanks for the inspiration, the peace, the calm, and the warm sense of community in which we are privileged to live and move and have our being.
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