The Anglican Chaplaincy of St Andrew is celebrating 50 years on the Costa del Sol this month and a series of events have been organised to coincide with the anniversary.
Founded by the Reverend Arnold Hellicar in February 1968 - in response to the influx of tourists and foreign residents that occurred during that decade - the chaplaincy was originally based in Torreblanca. Weekly meetings were at first held in people's houses and, as the congregation gradually increased, a church building was acquired and a part-time priest employed.
Today the chaplaincy includes four worship centres along the Costa del Sol, extending from Benalmádena to the eastern side of Marbella and inland to Alhaurín el Grande.
San José in Benalmádena and San Miguel in Calahonda are Roman Catholic churches, rented for the Anglican chaplaincy's services. The Cemetery Chapel at Alhaurín El Grande is a municipal chapel which St Andrew's is allowed to use in return for a donation. All of these centres hold services every Sunday.
The chaplaincy's main headquarters is St Andrew's Church in Los Boliches, a multi-function building used also as a community centre and hired to other organisations, providing an essential source of income. St Andrew's is entirely self-supporting and also relies on the generosity of donations and fundraising events.
Serving as a centre of expat social life in the area, the building, purchased by the chaplaincy in 1989, is also used for coffee mornings and a weekly bazaar.
The reverend of the chaplaincy is American-born Alaric Lewis, who is aided in his endeavours by a pastoral ministry team. These include Caroline Macfarlane (lay reader) and John Le Page (Church Army Captain and evangelist). In addition the chaplaincy has the ordinary structures of a parish in the Church of England, with an active church council and two churchwardens.
“At first, we didn't have proper worship centres. Originally our services would be held in hired rooms or people's houses, but now we have four centres, one of which we own,” Reverend Alaric tells SUR in English.
Church of England
As members of the Church of England, the chaplaincy seeks first and foremost to offer praise to God, explains Alaric. However, St Andrew's is mindful that not all of its worshippers are Anglicans, and so it strives to make sure that Christians of all denominations find a warm welcome.
“Our mission here is to tend to the needs of the English-speaking Christians. It is almost exclusively British, although everyone is welcome so long as they understand that we are the Church of England, so every morning we pray for the Queen,” Alaric explains.
The church has grown in the last few years, although the reverend admits that the younger generation are not overly represented in church, although he does organise special events aimed at attracting children, like the Mustard Seed Gang.
“The Mustard Seed Gang is a Christian play group that we hold around three times a year. The idea is to attract children with various activities. One of the challenges here is that the amount of British families with children moving to Spain has fallen, so we don't have many children in church on a Sunday,” Alaric says apprehensively.
In addition to worship, St Andrew's organises numerous social activities that offer an opportunity for expats to meet new friends. Study of the Sacred Scriptures, twice-yearly prayer days, a chaplaincy retreat, Special Praise services, lectures on the history and liturgy of the Church, Lenten lunches with talks, and instruction for lectors and Eucharistic ministers are just a few of the activities offered.
The actual date the chaplaincy started functioning is not known, however St Andrew's has several events planned to take place throughout this year, the majority of these events have not yet been finalised.
“It's a shame because we don't know the actual date of the anniversary. I checked old service registers but, for whatever reason, some are missing from this period so we just know that the anniversary is in February,” Alaric says.
It has been difficult to organise some of the events because the reverend will not be there to see them through, as he will be leaving the parish at the end of March. Alaric, who is based in Rome, has been with St Andrew's for three years, but he is now set to take up another chaplaincy post in Norwich.
“It will be a kind of double celebration, although I do not want my leaving to interrupt the anniversary celebrations. It will be sad to leave Spain, but I am also excited about working in England,” he says.
For the meantime, the reverend will be kept busy with the fiftieth anniversary celebrations, which begin this weekend. On Saturday, St Andrew's will host an afternoon tea party in the Reserva El Higuerón in Benalmádena. On Sunday, a special service in Los Boliches will be attended by Bishop David of the diocese of Europe.
“The anniversary is a great testimony to the importance people place in their faith. The bishop is coming especially for the milestone anniversary, so it will be a significant celebration,” the reverend concludes.