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Acting Dean of Gibraltar

2017 October 12
by Gordon Reid

I know it was just two blog entries ago that I was explaining that I had been elected Dean by members of the Southwark Deanery Synod (which just means the City Center churches of Philadelphia), but now I am back on the Rock of Gibraltar for three months as Acting Dean of the Cathedral of the Diocese in Europe. How did that happen?

Well, it is due to the sad fact that the  present Dean has had heart surgery, with a triple bypass proving necessary. The operation (in Spain) proved successful, thanks be to God, but it has left the Dean very weak, and he will certainly have to have a few months off to convalesce. One of the joys of being retired is that I am available on pretty short notice to take on temporary emergency jobs like this, though of course most of them are in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. So when Bishop David, Suffragan Bishop in the Church of England Diocese in Europe, asked me to return to Gibraltar for three months, I was able to say Yes immediately.

I say “return” because I was Dean of Gibraltar Cathedral  from 1998 to 2000, as the list of Deans at the back of the Cathedral attests. Therefore I know the ways of the Cathedral quite well, though it is amazing (or not so amazing, as some long-suffering friends will say!) how much I can forget. Well, it was 17 years ago when I left Gibraltar to be Archdeacon of Italy & Malta, and a lot has happened in between then and now,  both in my life and in that of the Cathedral and Gibraltar in general.

Much is just as it was, but the first thing that struck me as I  got off the plane (in what is reckoned to be one of the scariest airports in the world – the Mediterranean is at one end of the runway, the Rock of Gibraltar at the other end – was how Gibraltar has grown. On land reclaimed from the sea a super-modern area has arisen, called Ocean Village. High-rise luxury apartments with swimming pools and gardens filled with palms and tropical plants ablaze with colour; two casinos; a vast ship masquerading as a five-star hotel, or a five-star hotel masquerading as a vast ship – take your pick; dozens of restaurants and bars. And almost none of it existed when I was here seventeen years ago.

The vast old Deanery where I used to live  has been  sold, and of course the present Dean and his wife are in the modern high-rise apartment which is the new Deanery, but by chance the Port Chaplain’s post was at the moment vacant, so I was housed in the very attractive lodgings above the Mediterranean Missions to Seafarers club (it’s bar is called The Flying Angel) within the Port. This is set on the North Mole and so had the sea on all sides, so that even on the hottest day (and it often hit 100) there were sea breezes. It was also air-conditioned, which was not true of the old Deanery.

The City-State of Gibraltar is only three miles long and is composed mostly of one vast mountain, joined to Spain by a narrow isthmus. The population is only about 35,000 and they mostly live in the main town and its suburbs and in two very pretty villages on the other side of the Rock, Catalan Bay and the splendidly named Both Worlds. One  road circles the Rock, passing through  long tunnels to get from one place to the next, and although the main town looks across to Spain, yet from the other side you look across to north Africa. On a clear day you can see across the Straits of Gibraltar to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, and in the evening  the lights of Tangiers in the distance.

I soon settled back into the pattern of life I had once known so well. The Cathedral has a daily Mass which I shared with two splendid priests who have homes in Gibraltar as well as in England. One, Fr Robin Gill, I had known in Edinburgh when he taught at the University there. Robin is one of the leading English scholars of Moral Philosophy and Sociology whose books are standard texts in many university and seminary courses. The other, Fr Jim Sutton, is a retired Church of England priest, much loved in the parishes where he served, and now enjoying  his retirement  in Gibraltar. Between us, we covered the Masses and other services and sick visiting.

However, Gibraltar being the size it is, much pastoral work can  be done just by walking the mile and a half length of Main Street! I was not on the Rock more than a couple of weeks before getting from one end of Main Street to the other was like an obstacle course, and one could spend a whole morning doing nothing else. It is a fascinating street, with a  bizarre mixture of shops selling very high-end duty-free luxury goods, gold and jewelry, right down to cafes serving full English breakfast (all day long!) and fish and chips.

When vast cruise liners come into the port – and there are often  two a day – Gibraltar fills up with an extra few thousand people from nine in the  morning till about four or five in the afternoon. Then, like the tide of the sea, the crowd washes back onto their ships which then sail away to Malaga or Cadiz or Lisbon. Living in the Flying Angel Mission, I would wake almost every morning to what looked like a vast block of flats which had just appeared at the bottom of my garden.Then the crowds would pour off like ants from an anthill. Scores of minibuses were there to transport the tourists to the top of the Rock where they had splendid views of Spain in the one direction and Morocco in the other. And of course they all wanted to see the famous Barbary Apes of Gibraltar, small tailless monkeys who swarm all over the Upper Rock and sometimes come right down into the town. The taxi drivers all carry treats for the monkeys to tempt them out to entertain the tourists. I used to drive all my visitors up there to see the apes, but during the last three months I didn’t go at all, either in my car or in the cable car. Been there, done that!

“Been there, done that” could also have described my ministry at Holy Trinity Cathedral itself, but as every priest can testify, there is an infinite variety in the life of a congregation. It was seventeen years since I moved from being Dean to become Archdeacon of Italy & Malta, and in that time much has changed at the Cathedral, though much remains the same. The worship is still Mass-centered, with two on Sundays and one every weekday. All the Masses are the modern prayer book rite except the 8 0′clock on Sunday which is straight 1662 (It wasn’t when I was Dean!). I’ve hardly ever celebrated this rite, and was taught to despise it as being liturgically deficient, but oddly I came to enjoy it very much. Suddenly I saw the point of consecrating the elements of bread and wine and then immediately giving them to the congregation, and the Gloria at the end seemed to be in just the right place. For a short, early-morning Mass it fitted right in. But of course, my preference is for the Solemn Mass with full quota of servers and ceremonial and with a fine organ and choir singing and leading the best of hymns and church music, which is what we did at the 10.30 Mass. Then followed generous refreshments, with a full-scale barbecue once a month.

It is also the priest’s privilege to share the life of the members of his church at moments of great joy or sadness, and even in three months I did just that with both ends of life, the Baptism of a baby and the Burial of an old man. I was also privileged to bless the 50th wedding anniversary of a couple who had worshipped in the Cathedral for all of these years and now celebrated surrounded by children and grandchildren. I took the Blessed Sacrament to some of the sick or housebound, another of the greatest privileges of a priest’s work. And of course I ate and drank constantly with almost all the flock! Gibraltar has some wonderful restaurants, and my friends know them all.

I’ve written almost 1500 words, so that is quite enough, but you can see how I enjoyed being back in my old Cathedral and on the Rock of Gibraltar.

 

 

 

 

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Mark Coreth permalink
    October 22, 2017

    Dear Gordon,
    Seonaid and I have been married for 31 years now… and as happy as ever!
    We were wondering where you are and how you are, I think de facto much has been learned from your wonderful blog!
    Tomorrow I am off to have lunch with Fr Timothy Wright… I have not seen him for ages, poor man has been less than well but fingers crossed. He is hugely involved in unity between the Abrahamic Faiths… and that is really what I want to talk through with him.
    I have had a fascinating year making a large piece of sculpture for the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital, the work being in the bulls eye of the Old City… I would love to send you information on it as I suspect you might be interested.
    I do hope this reaches you and more than any thing else that you are in top form and have a smile on your face!
    Seonaid sends her love … so that is both of us!
    Mark (Coreth)
    P.S. Alison is on good form… a little older but well!

    • Gordon Reid permalink*
      October 23, 2017

      Dear Mark, Lovely to hear from you.
      The sculpture in the Old City sounds great: you must send me a picture when it is finished. I’m retired now, as you will gather from my blog, and have decided to continue living in Philadelphia. After twelve years one has more friends here than anywhere else, even Edinburgh or London, though I visit both from time to time. I have a tiny apartment in Center City (see how my spelling has been corrupted!) but it has a little courtyard or patio, so I can grow some flowers.
      When I am next in Edinburgh I will make a visit to Lauder and Alison. I often pray for her and Guy (and you and Seonaid come into it too sometimes!) Thanks for getting in touch; maybe we can meet up for a meal or a drink when I’m in London.
      Love, Gordon.

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