Like all churches throughout Spain, St George's Church in Malaga is beginning to emerge from lockdown and is welcoming back its congregation.
The Anglican church has also recently welcomed its new priest, Father Louis Darrant. The 43-year-old priest was officially received by the Archdeacon of Gibraltar, who said that his appointment was a "symbol of renewal and hope", both for the church and for the English-speaking community of Malaga.
Born in Plaistow, East London, Father Louis studied at the University of Aberdeen, a period he remembers with fondness. Following his training at the College of the Resurrection in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, he returned to London, where he was ordained at Southwark Cathedral. He served his curacy at St John the Divine, Kennington, before moving to Essex to serve as rector of St Mary's Church in Maldon.
The new chaplain is no stranger to Spain, as prior to arriving in Malaga, he served as priest in the town of Vinarós, on the Costa Azahar.
Now enjoying the delights that Malaga has to offer, the spirited cleric is learning Spanish and is immensely attracted by Spain's rich cultural and artistic heritage.
Father Louis took time out from his busy schedule to talk to SUR in English about how "delighted" he is to have been appointed to serve as chaplain of St George's Church.
Can I call you Louis?
Absolutely: I always say call me what you feel most comfortable with. The title (father) is about remembering the role I have for the community that I serve.
Did you have a strict religious upbringing?
No, people find the faith in all sorts of ways. My parents are hugely important to me and have influenced the kind of priest I am without being church people themselves. My parents actually realised I would become a priest before I did.
When did you first realise that you wanted to become a priest?
I worked as a labourer for my father and I was the worst labourer ever. I just wanted to hang around and chat to people. It's always been that way, I have always chatted to people about their problems. I would mix with people from all walks of life and I found them so interesting. It was this that taught me not to judge people, and I soon realised that I would make a much better priest than a labourer.
What appeals to you about working with the English-speaking community of Malaga and the Costa del Sol?
My parents lived on the Costa del Sol, so I feel very at home in this part of Spain. I look forward to exploring the life of the city and beyond. My desire is to help the church grow as a place of prayer, hospitality and service for all people in the city and the surrounding region.
How are you settling in?
I can't tell you how happy I am to come to Malaga: it's a dream job. I love St George's. I am really enjoying getting to know them, they have been some welcoming.
What difference do you hope to make at St George's?
I think there are tremendous possibilities for developing St George's so it can make a really positive contribution to the local community. Not just the English-speaking community, but further afield, because I feel we can be ambassadors.
Will you be making any changes?
The best changes are made as part of a team, but I think the reality is that there has been enough change already in getting people back into the church after the lockdown. Any other changes would be done by working as a team. That is how you build trust, energy and goodwill.
Has St George's adapted to the 'new normal'?
Yes, absolutely. All of us are now getting used to wearing a mask in church and observing the proper protocols to keep everyone safe and healthy. One of the first things I did was to develop our online presence. A number of people have reconnected with the church because of our online services, which we have been broadcasting live on YouTube.
Do you intend to have relationships with other local Spanish churches?
A big part of my life in Spain is to be an ambassador of the Church of England, as well as, in an unofficial sense, for my country. I feel there is much we can do to deepen the friendship between the C of E and the Catholic Church.
Do you think the church has adapted to the 21st century?
Well, it's still here and that's one of its great qualities, because you can turn to the church at any point in your life and know that you will be welcomed and supported. The C of E, like all communities, is working out how to change with the times, and how to best support people in whatever situation they find themselves in.
Do you support same sex marriage?
Absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt. LGBT people are very welcome at St George's. As things stand, I am not permitted to marry a same sex couple, but there are many other ways in which I can support and help the couple understand God's blessing for their life together, which is the most important thing.
You have been described as a 'vibrant new priest'; is this how you see yourself?
(Laughing as he replies) Vibrant, well if that means alive, then yes, very alive. I think it is important how you set the tone, because it's about what kind of atmosphere you create as the priest. It is not about having all the answers or believing the right things. It's about doing the best where you are planted.