Sunday, 20 July 2014

A very Spanish 30th

Well, it's official. I'm old! Reaching the grand old age of thirty was helped somewhat by spending the day in beautiful Barcelona. A place which has now well and truly won my heart.

We started the day with a trip to the Sagrada Familia, a church designed by Gaudi. It might sound a bit odd to come out of the mouth of a trainee Vicar but I'm generally not that keen on visiting churches. I tend to find them a bit oppressive and the architecture makes me feel squashed rather then liberating in the big Gothic buildings full of dominating statues. I wasn't expecting too much from the Sagrada Familia but had been told I absolutely must go inside of it, and man alive, was I in for a surprise.

I can confidently say that this is one of the only church buildings I have ever been into that has knocked me for six. I wonder if it is the combination of the passions in Gaudi's life which are somewhat replicated in mine – a love of nature, a love of the Bible and a desire to see the church re-magined for a new generation – but it connected with me deeply.

I loved the use of coloured light in the church in the stained glass. All the colours of the rainbow.

For the first time I felt that my faith had been replicated right there in a work of architecture and it was quite overwhelming. Gaudi was commissioned to build the Church when he was 32 so it all seemed to come together somehow. The thirties, a new decade, many new hopes and this extraordinary place testifying to the power of a vision and a good dose of tenacity!
Matthew's gospel carved into the doors
We then went on to slightly less holy pursuits of shopping along the Passieg de Gracia. As a long time devotee of Mango I was thrilled to go to the flagship store and even more thrilled to visit the place where Mango clothes go for one last hurrah before the end, the outlet store! Oh. My. Goodness. This place is wall to wall with loveliness, Mango's finest, in perfect condition but at a fraction of the price. Only the teeny tiny hand luggage restrictions of Easy Jet stopped me from going truly mental and I managed to emerge, a paragon of restraint, with just a neon yellow skirt and a red dress.

We finished the evening with dinner on top of the bullring followed by the amazing fountains and light show at Placa d'Espana. The light show was spectacular and the soundtrack was eerily like someone had broken into my Spotify playlist. It was amazing to jump about, get sprayed by water and have a good old sing along. Honestly, how cool is this city?!

And now, sob, my last night here is upon me. We're heading off to the beach for a few days know because, well, why wouldn't we? Then we are off to Madrid to feast ourselves silly and possibly do something cultural in between. I have loved it here. I felt comfortable from the moment I arrived and I have had some genuine milestones in my working and personal life. Who would have thought such a short trip planned somewhat on a speculative whim would turn out to be so special.

But now I'm signing off to dip my toes in the Med! See you in a week or so!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Fear and Trembling

'I came to you in weakness, with much fear and trembling'

So says the Apostle Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians (in the New Testament for non Bible geeks...) and so say I! Today, as I mentioned in my last post, was my first time leading a full service with a sermon in church, and in a packed family service in Barcelona no less! As I got ready to step up to the lectern I looked out on the congregation and wondered, for what must be the hundredth time, what on earth I was doing to myself. I practised all week not wanting people to feel my nerves and so be put off from what they were there to do but there they were, those pesky nerves, always bubbling up when you least want them to!

The church in one my MANY practice sessions!

People say 'fake it till you make it' but I've never been much of an actor. I had one terrible attempt at secondary school where I forgot my lines about two scenes in and and just kept repeating the one I remembered over and over again. Not my finest hour! But today, as I started to speak and felt the now familiar words forming on my lips from all my practice, I realised that the one thing I had going for me, bad acting aside, was that I really meant these words. I really wanted to welcome everyone there 'In the name of Christ' and really wanted to talk about love and peace and joy and blessing. Speaking those opening words made me smile and then I knew I was going to be ok.

The fear and trembling seems all right this side of things. It's the evidence that, finally, I am doing something that really means something to me. After the service, and gathering some feedback from the congregation, I went upstairs to my room, and the spectacular view it gives me over Barcelona, and had a little cry. Not because people were critical (except for my preaching speed which, quite frankly, is comparable to the speed of light! I'm working on it!!) but because they seemed to understand. They seemed to see my heart and what this means to me and, most amazingly, seemed to think that I have something to say worth hearing. I had a little cry because it is amazing, and exhausting, to finally care so much about something. It's amazing when what you want so badly to communicate gets through and for it to help someone.

I already know that I am going to miss this place. Its not unusual for me to get very attached to churches. Whether its the ladies that I learned how to set up the church with in Barton or the group I chose a new Vicar with, there are all these memories, all these things that changed me. One of the ladies asked me today if I would come back here one day to work when I am all fully trained. I laughed and said I'd love to but lets see what God has planned for me first. Still, the future aside, its strange to be in a place where you can feel yourself changing, when you know, even as you live it, that these moments are going to be something you look back on as important, even life changing.

Fear and trembling isn't really something any of us seek out but sometimes perhaps it is what is needed after all. Next week I'm preaching again and I'll be practising over and over again this summer if nothing else but to get that 'word per minute' quota down! I think I'll always remember this first time, though, and that happy little feeling bubbling up in me even if it was accompanied by much fear and trembling!
P.S if you'd like to read my sermon (second attempt at a sermon in my life time, mind you!) then you can find it here.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Spanish tales

There are certain things that are almost obligatory when spending some time in another country. The first of these, of course, is getting lost. I managed to do this pretty spectacularly on my second day here whilst heavy laden with shopping bags. I nearly reached the point where I thought I might just have to give it all up as bad job and accept that I was now homeless with nothing but a bag of macaroni and a bottle of Rioja to my name when I remembered someone mentioning that the road the Church is on is split in two as some bright spark decided to built a hospital smack bang in the middle of what was once one long street. Ten minutes late I found the right place, had a little chuckle to myself and promptly collapsed on the sofa.

I've also been treated to some of the curiosities of Catalan culture. On Sunday night on my way home from lunch (at nine pm, nine pm!!) I stumbled across a huge group of uniformed locals forming human pyramids in the town square topped, about five levels up, by a five year old in a crash helmet. Only in Spain! I'm slowly adjusting to the different timing of life. Lunch mid afternoon, dinner later evening and everything being done at a gentle pace. Being on the Metro is like being on the London Underground but running at a quarter of the speed. I haven't seen a single person run through a station since I arrived!
Relaxing on the rocks
By far the greatest part of this pace of life is the conversations you can have with people. Rather than a snatched half an hour where you barely cover the small talk topics of job and family long lunches and late warm nights give a chance to talk about things at a depth that is impossible when everything is on a schedule. I'm reminded that time where no one is looking at their watch is precious indeed. The only factor driving people to get moving seems to be that the metro, Cinderella like, stops at 12 or pumpkin hour!

So, getting lost and navigating meal times aside, I'm getting rather comfy indeed. Luckily the church is keep me on my toes with a big challenge of leading my first solo service in the church this weekend. Its both daunting and thrilling to be putting the first part of my training into action. Still, there's only one way to learn to lead services and give sermons and that's to give them. The great advantage of living above the church comes into play again giving me time to do an awful lot of play acting to empty pews before I 'go live' on Sunday. There will be a large glass of celebratory Rioja after that! See you on the other side!!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

A Room with a View

Tonight has been one of those evenings, quite unexpectedly, when a moment, a single view, makes me wonder how on earth I have found myself here. The view from my window in Barcelona is pretty spectacular. The sea on one side with the city unfolding before it. The mountains on the other topped by a church. I can see the lights streaming out from what I'm pretty sure is the football stadium, lighting up the whole sky like some sort of night time rainbow. And right below my window is another sight I hadn't anticipated I'd be looking out on, a simple one with plain black lettering reading - 'St George's Church'.

Oddly enough I have lived in the roof of a church before and I loved it. I loved the coming and going of people below, the sound of the band rehearsing, and a two minute walk down the stairs to church wasn't bad on a Sunday morning either. But I never really anticipated that I would be staying in a church in this capacity. That I would ever, in my lifetime, be standing up on a Sunday morning in front of a bunch of people I don't know and saying prayers or giving sermons. It still has somewhat of a surreal quality about it. How did the atheist biology graduate end up training to be a church leader and in Barcelona of all places?

I think these moments are good, though, and that they come all too infrequently. Or perhaps we only allow them to come all too infrequently. A change of scene helps. It somehow throws everything into the light, making the ordinary clear again for what it really is, pretty darn extraordinary really. Its nice to be reminded that taking risks is worth it. Every thing that has brought me here has been a series of risks. The risk of entertaining such a mad idea in my world as faith and God. The risk of going into an unknown and unfamiliar church (someone tell me when that is going to change?!). The risk of looking foolish, often. The risk of seeking after doing something that I really, really love. The risk of being told 'no' when I thought I had found that thing and a million other risks besides.

All I can hope for is that these risks will continue to be worth it as they have been so far. At the very least they have made life rather interesting and it strikes me that it is a wonderful thing to be surprised over and over again about where you end up. As I wrote in my last post it sets the future wide open and full of unnumbered possibilities. I just hope to be looking out of another window in ten years time and thinking 'How on earth did I get here?!' That seems like a very good thing to hope for indeed.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Feisty Fly

Well here we are, the eve of my big trip to Barcelona! I can't believe it is finally here, the chance to explore a new city, a new people and to test out some ideas and inklings for the future. In the run up to this next adventure I have been reading a great book called The Mind Makeover by Sharron Lowe. In particular I have been struck by her chapter on smashing out of your comfort zone. This is, of course, particularly relevant when you are about to hop on a plane with just an address on a slip of paper and hopes of a good time!

Lowe gives a great example about comfort zones that I hadn't heard before, that of flies in a jar. If you place flies in a jar with the lid of you can pretty much guarantee what will happen, they will fly away. If you then cover the top of the jar with clear plastic film then they can only try to escape, unsuccessfully. Interestingly when you take off the film, after one day of trying to escape, the flies no longer make a bid for freedom. They no longer believe that there is life outside the jar and so sit, comfortably, in the confines of the jar for the rest of their lives.
For me that sounded worryingly familiar!! It is so easy to get caught up in the narrative of the world around you, even the one you have created for yourself. It happens at every age but turning 30 seems to be rife with this kind of thing. Suddenly life ought to look a certain way because 'that is just what people do.' The partner, the house, the kids, the good job, the nice car - the whole shebang. But what if that doesn't happen for you? And what if you are not sure if you even want it? Then you simply find yourself living 'unsuccessfully' under rules you never even made in the first place.

Being in Church ministry is wonderfully liberating in a way. It comes with its own 'glass jars' and you have to be a very feisty fly indeed to get beyond them sometimes. But it does also offer the opportunity, even the expectation, to fly free, live differently and chase after what is out of the ordinary. Its very exciting to be on the cusp of that again. To be looking out and thinking 'Well, this is wide open.' Now its just time to muster the courage, ready my wings and fly up to the top of that jar. Who knows what is on the other side?