Portugal 4: Church

When we knew we would be in Portugal for six weeks we knew it would be important to find somewhere to worship together, a Church we could feel part of even though we would only be there for a short period of time. Like anyone in a new place looking for a Church we looked online and discovered that in Carvoeiro (where we would be staying) was All Nations Community Church.

All Nations meets each Sunday at Carvoeiro Tennis Club and is led by Pastors Stephen and Elaine Richardson. The Church started about 10 years ago by a small group of families who felt God was calling them to begin something new. Since then the Church has been worshipping and reaching out into the local community.

Bilingual Welcome

In the month we have been here (so far) we have been made to feel so welcome and part of the All Nations Community. Within a week people knew our names, people sought us out to talk to us, to find out what had brought us to worship, to listen our stories of life and faith.

We have all found the worship, preaching and children’s work really enriching to our faith and to the sabbatical. We have been encouraged to share in worship and to take part, if we wanted, in the prayer meeting, house groups and a teaching weekend. In all these things no one has quizzed us or asked for qualifications, we have been welcomed and included because of our shared faith in Jesus – it is that which we have seen in each that has enabled us to be truly part of the All Nations family for this time.

This welcome has shown me how you can become part of a Church community so quickly and if you want to, to get involved. I often say to new faces at the churches I minister with that you don’t have to wait forever to get involved but we don’t want to ask you too quickly to commit or get involved. I wonder how we could make the invitation to get involved more obvious and easy, alongside good safer recruitment practices.

Alongside this wonderful welcome I have been really struck by a number of the charisms that makes All Nations the Church it is:

  • Being multilingual: the congregation each Sunday speaks many different languages. The service is led in both English and Portuguese with translation from the front (as you see in the picture above with Stephen and Sandra) and is also translated using headsets and simultaneous translation into German. This makes for a different worship experience but also one which reflects the diversity of the body of Christ.
  • Pattern of Worship: All Nations roots its worship in Acts 2:42 and its pattern of worship across a month gives a different focus each week to The Word, Communion and Prayer, [Sung] Worship and Hospitality (breakfast service). It hasn’t always been easy to see the distinction between the different weeks, but I think the pattern is good. I was particularly struck by how effective the breakfast service was last Sunday and wonder if this is something I could take back with me to Churches I minister with.
  • Sung Worship: the sung worship each week at All Nations is led by a very able group of musicians, who find their commonality in the music they sing rather than their mother tongue. We have been singing many songs which are familiar to us, which has helped us to feel at home, but it has been wonderful to hear them sung and attempt to sing them in Portuguese as well as English. I promise I won’t be singing any Portuguese solos when I return to leading worship!
  • Location: it’s been really good to worship in community building rather than a Church. When I’ve been to Churches that meet in community centres/schools before I’ve often struggled to focus or feel like the space is conducive to worship. This hasn’t been the case with All Nations, maybe because the space has been worshipped in for 10 years. It is also great to have after Church coffee round the swimming pool and to see the children and young people enjoying the swim! I’m not sure an outdoor pool would go down so well in Hexham!

As we’ve talked with members of All Nations and I’ve chatted with Stephen (pastor) it has been really interesting to hear that many of the challenges I’ve faced in ministry in England they/he have also faced here. This is not the place to share specifics, but to note that where God’s Church is seeking to serve, to share and build the Kingdom there is lots to rejoice in and to give thanks for, but it’s not always easy. To know that we all face challenges, often similar, as we seek to find ways to help one another walk with God is an encouragement and a blessing. Most of all to know that the Holy Spirit of God is alive and at work in those challenges is a reminder of the biggest support and blessing we have as followers of Jesus.

Thank you All Nations for your welcome, for your invitation to be part of the Church here, for your ministry and mission in this part of the Algarve and for all that you will bless us with over the next two weeks.

Portugal 3: Books

One of the great joys of being here in Portugal and of my whole sabbatical has been time to read. In an earlier post I shared some of the books I’d read and have mentioned some in other posts too. I thought I’d share some of the others I’ve read here, I’ve got something from all a lot from some and a little from others:

Portugal 2: Family Time

With apologies that it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, I’ve been having to much fun! I hope to blog a bit more over the next few days about our time here in Portugal, this one about Family Time, one about the blessing of All Nations Church which we’ve been attending and one about Me and God.

One of the aims of my sabbatical was to have time as a family, time with Tara and Jethro that I wouldn’t normally get. We have been very lucky that the sabbatical has come before Jethro goes to school. This has allowed us this extended time together and to spend a long period here in Portugal.

The time here has given us a chance to do lots together as a family, to swim each day, to go to the beach, to explore new places, to go to Church together, to read stories with each other, to go to the park (lots!). These things have been a real gift for me, but just as much a gift has been being able to be involved with the everyday of life with Tara and Jethro. Not having to go to evening meetings has meant I can be involved with Jethro’s bedtime and have every evening with Tara, not dashing out every morning means we are able to have leisurely mornings together; to pray, to have breakfast, to get Jethro ready for the day. These moments have been precious and so much more special than the day to day rush that they happen in when we’re at home.

Here are a few pictures of what we’ve been up to:

As we’ve been doing these things together there have been times when I’ve had to remember this time is God given, that time as a family was agreed by the Church as part of my sabbatical. There have been times when I’ve thought, I should be doing some more reading, I could write another blog, I should do some writing from my reading. In those moments God has reminded me that the time as a family is part of his gift to me, to us. These moments have helped me to not rush off and read, write, blog but to focus on being a family, to look for another opportunity that we’ll remember together, to give thanks to God for his many many gifts, including at this time his gift of space and time together.

I am so grateful to God for my family and for this time.

Portugal 1: A Great Gift and Sunshine

Tara, Jethro and I are now in Portugal. We are really blessed that my parents part own a property here which we are able to use for an extended period during the sabbatical. Our first few days have been settling in, getting use to being in a new place together and enjoying the sunshine!

It has been good to establish a ‘space’ to pray here and to pray each day in it. We’ve also started a prayer pot as a family which we are using each evening to pray for family and friends. Each of the lollipop sticks has the name of friends and family on and we each draw one one out each evening and say a prayer for the person whose name is on the stick.

St Beuno’s 4: Easter

When I started planning my sabbatical one of the things I knew wanted to do was to journey through Easter in a different way. I love the celebration of Easter but as a minister I am involved with leading the services and celebrations. Sabbatical gave me the opportunity to receive rather than to lead.

The Easter retreat at St Beuno’s gave me the opportunity I was looking for, to receive through well led services, discussions and silence. Being in a tradition different to my own allowed me to see the story of Easter with different glimpses and perspectives. The people who I journeyed with on the retreat came from different backgrounds, Christian traditions, professions and ages all of whom added to the experience and blessing.

I tried to capture the Easter experience by taking a picture of the Chapel each day, the changes in the pictures capture something of the Easter Triduum (the three days from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday).

Maundy Thursday – the Triduum began with the Maundy Thursday Mass, celebrating the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) when Jesus shared a meal with his disciples in the upper room. Central to this service was the washing of the feet, as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before supper in the upper room.

Maundy Thursday
with the bowl ready for foot washing

This first service really marked the beginning of the Easter Weekend for me. It gave me an opportunity to think back over lent and to focus on Jesus. I was reminded that it is Jesus who makes Easter possible, who models servanthood in washing the feet of others and in his willingness to be handed over for the sake of the whole world. In his sermon Fr Dermot (The Superior of the Jesuit Community at St Beuno’s) asked us to hold onto and reflect on Jesus’ question to the disciples ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ (John 13:12). It was a very poignant question and a good one to reflect as we entered Good Friday.

Good Friday
The Chapel was bare apart from the cross we had carried for the Stations of the Cross

Good Friday – When I am in Hexham Good Friday begins with a walk of witness through the town, at St Beuno’s we walked through the grounds carrying a cross and praying the Stations of the Cross. This journey showed me in a new light the journey that Jesus went on and how he kept going despite the knowledge he had of what was to come. I was struck on the walk that no matter what Jesus faced, for us, his Father (God) was always there for him and never left him. In the same way in our moments of struggle and distress God never abandons us.

This picture (below), taken just before the cross was placed into the Chapel shows the tabernacle empty. For the Roman Catholic community the presence of the reserved sacrament is an important sign of Jesus’ presence in the world. The empty tabernacle therefore speaks of the emptiness in the world that came when Jesus died, the absence of God on earth following his crucifixion.

Good Friday

The flash caught the well polished tabernacle and shines, for me this photograph says something very powerful which came to me on Good Friday that even in death, even in Jesus’ death on that first Good Friday, there is always hope. There is always hope because God, the God of Heaven and Earth, is always present and when God is present there is hope. This was echoed for me on Holy Saturday and I expressed it in the poem I wrote and shared here.

Holy Saturday – I believe Holy Saturday is so important to Easter yet so often it is ignored. To wait in the darkness of death, to imagine what it was like for the first disciples who didn’t know the end of the story really helps me to understand the depths of what Jesus did for me/us on the cross.

Holy Saturday
with the Easter Candle stand ready for the Easter Vigil, a sign of the coming hope.

I found Easter Saturday at Beuno’s uncomfortable, maybe as a day of darkness and despair probably should be. In being attentive to the uncomfortableness I was feeling I was able to meet with God. Through the silence, through scripture and through walking the labyrinth I drew close to God. In drawing close I was reminded of the hope there is always in God, of God’s every active nature, of the victorious sacrifice that Jesus made for me on Good Friday and of God’s redeeming love for me. Through his love for me the active nature of God brings blessing, forgiveness and renewal to me. This reminder of God’s love for me was very powerful, it showed me afresh that God’s love for me is so huge and is the context for who I am and everything I am called to be. It drew me back to the heart of my faith and of who I am. It was a real moment of renewal and depending of my faith and who I am. Through this the uncomfortableness I began the day with dissipated and transformed into a great peace.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday began with the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening and the lighting of the new Paschal Candle. It was a great (yet long) celebration that Christ was Risen and Easter had arrived.

As the picture shows the Easter Candle is now present and lit, the tabernacle in full again and the flowers have returned. In many ways all was back as it began on Maundy Thursday, but it was all renewed – the new candle lit, the reserved sacrament newly consecrated, the light of a new day shining through.

In many ways this summarises how I felt at the end of my Easter retreat, the same (a follower of Jesus) but renewed. Renewed in my faith, deepened in my knowledge of God’s love for me, seeing things differently with the new light of Easter.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!