By Shaira Elysha Mazo
Photos: S.E. Mazo unless otherwise stated
It’s a very inclusive church. It emphasizes the fact that we’re part of a worldwide church
Walking along Calle Núñez de Balboa, it’s hard to miss the small, brick-and-stone church seemingly out of place in the middle of a modern commercial area. But look again, because this church is anything but small. With a congregation of some 26 nationalities, St. George’s Anglican Church is an International Christian Community in the heart of Madrid where, as the chaplain Rev. Paul Ormrod declares, “Everyone is welcome here.”
This year, the church is celebrating its 90th anniversary of consecration. Its humble beginnings go back to 1864, as a small chaplaincy appointed to the British Embassy. In 1923 the church was built by the Spanish architect Teodoro de Anasagasti, combining traditional Spanish architecture with specifically Anglican forms. The church officially opened in March 1925. Since then, it has severed its exclusive ties with the British Embassy and has grown into an English speaking international community that welcomes different people from several other embassies into their congregation.
The congregation, especially those who don’t live close by, usually meet on a Sunday to worship and later get together over a cup of tea. Father Paul describes the congregation as mainly composed of three groups of people: those who have been with the church between thirty and forty years; the younger families that have been part of the church for ten to twenty years; and those who are in Madrid for more or less than a year because of travel or other reasons.
St. George’s consists of a wide range of nationalities but the bulk of the congregation are British, North American, and Nigerian.
Actually, Father Paul says one can usually find identifiable groups at certain services on a Sunday. For example, the usually quiet 8:30 service is attended by travelers waiting for their flight. The 11:00 service is frequented by younger families with their children. And lastly, the 11:30 service is a Traditional Sung Eucharist favored by the more conventional churchgoers. Of course these lineups are not official and people can attend whatever service is most convenient for them.
Because St. George’s is sought for being English speaking, services are almost exclusively in English and are quite similar to those conducted in England. Services may be held in Spanish, and occasionally both English and Spanish, when there is a huge Spanish crowd for baptisms, weddings, or funerals. However, the individual is encouraged to sing the Lord’s Prayer in the language he is most comfortable.
The Church celebrates the congregation’s wonderfully diverse culture through different means aside from language. Notably, once a year they conduct a Pan-African Sunday service led by Nigerians who sing in their native dialect Igbo and come dressed in national costumes. St. George’s also keeps its ties with England through traditions like the Harvest Thanksgiving.
Most importantly, the Church welcomes all worshipers of whatever denomination who are looking for a place to worship: “It’s a very inclusive church. It emphasizes the fact that we’re part of a worldwide church,” says Rev. Paul. He adds, “One of our main aims is to find means to welcome more young families to the church and provide for children and young teens.”
In fact, there is a Godly Play in Sunday School whereby, catering to children ages 4 to 11 years, “a ‘storyteller’ brings bible stories to life with models and pictures. Children are encouraged to ask questions and share their reactions to the stories, and can respond creatively using art and craft materials,” according to the Church’s website.
Father Paul says one of the challenges of the Church is to find a way to connect with teenagers and young adults and develop a spirituality that is relevant to them, not least those who are in Madrid for a short time and are looking for a place of worship. He figures incorporating a social aspect to the worship will make this possible. The Church wants to be a place where young people can be themselves and be comfortable with their peers through relevant programs.
Accordingly, last September 2014 they started off Fresher’s Fair which is not unlike the Fresher’s Fair in English universities. They invited different Madrid-based organizations like the Boy Scouts, rugby and cricket clubs, churches, etc. to join and set up stalls. Four hundred people attended and made contact with these prganizations to help them integrate better into life in Madrid. Another Fresher’s Fair is in the works for September.
To celebrate their 90th anniversary, they have planned different events throughout the year. For example, last June 27 the Bishop of Gibraltar, The Right Reverend Dr Robert Innes, celebrated the ordination of three deacons. St. George’s Day was of course the red letter day, celebrated with a huge party. Former Chaplain, presently Bishop, Henry Scrivenas was special guest along with some clergy. In October The Right Reverend David Hamid, Suffragan Bishop of Europe, will be in town for a special celebratory service.
To wrap up, Father Paul, as the chaplain of St. George’s for nearly two years, says: “It’s a diverse community and that’s its strength. One of my tasks as the chaplain is to continue building up that sense of community. It’s difficult at times because people come and go. Some are here for a short time only. It’s very important for people to realize that this is their church, this is where they can worship.”
Sunday (1st to 4th Sunday of the month):
08:30 Holy Communion
10:00 Family Eucharist (All-Age Service or Sunday School for Children)
11:30 Sung Eucharist
Sunday (5th of the month):
11:00 One United Service
19:30 Evening Prayer
(No mid-week services during July and August. Check calendar for details)