Sunday, December 11, 2011
The Chronicles of Salamanca: Walking Away Part One, "A Summary of Church; It's Fading and Restitution"
So, I've entered my final week here in Salamanca, Spain. I have this plan for this week to type out a summary of one area of my experience every day, each day focusing on a different aspect of Spanish culture or life abroad or contextual understandings of things. I'd like to start with my experience of the church. I've been semi-consistently attending the "Evangelical Chapel" service on Sundays. It's only semi-consistent because I find myself traveling a lot of weekends. It's a humble place, sequestered beneath an apartment complex on the Northeast side of the city. There are usually anywhere from 100-200 people (as a rough estimate) in the pews every Sunday. The 12pm service (held so late because nothing here starts before 12pm) is a free-flowing time of sharing, wherein individuals stand up and share a verse or a prayer or request a certain song be sung by the congregation. It usually lasts about an hour and is always concluded with Communion and announcements. Like I said, it's humble and consistent, full of individuals that want to be there and entirely welcoming to anyone that walks through the door.
But, the religious climate of this city makes this place magical. Spain is not a church-going nation. I've now been to two Catholic Masses out here, in enormous and lavish Cathedrals older than the United States of America. They, too, are consistent. There's an entire procession, there's the reading of scripture and the holy incense (don't ask me what it's for) and the liturgy and the confessional booths. There are priests that seem as old as the Ribera-painted frescos behind them, and an eternity of un-explained standing and sitting and paintings of Mary. It's a system that has been in place for centuries. And, it has no intention of changing. But, the difference is who sits in the pews. There aren't many folks in attendance. The people that are all appear to be on the back half of fifty, with hardly any young people in attendance. It has a feeling of dying out, tragically so. There is a very negative sentiment about the church and organized religion. A lot of that has to do with the history of Spain, of Franco's dictatorship and religious oppression leading to wide-spread spiritual disinterest. But, it's noticeable in the streets, with the Spaniards that I've met; they are a spiritually-disinterested people, if I might utilize one generalization.
So, upon entering the Evangelical Chapel, it's an entirely fresh and inspiring thing. Christ is moving in that place, and the persistence of his grace and love shine through in the congregation's eagerness to gather and proclaim his truth to one another. The church here in Spain has a tremendously daunting up-hill battle to fight. But, I have come across many Spanish Christians that are putting forth an incredible effort to share Christ's redeeming love with the people that they know. Their faith is impressive, and stands out as being so unique and inspiring from the non-redemptive story arc that most Spaniards identify with in their history (more on that "non-redmeptive story arc" later, that's a huge theme thus far.) But, it's a long journey ahead and we must continue to pray for Spain to recover from the wounds that history has left. Christ is real and alive here in Europe, too. But, it's a tougher reality in which He exists. The Evangelical Chapel is in the fight.