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|1637: St Vincent's, Praia da Luz, Algarve, Portugal
Vincent's, Praia da Luz, Algarve, Portugal.
Church of England, Diocese
The church is actually the Roman Catholic church of Nossa Senhora
da Luz (Our Lady of Light); St Vincent's Anglican congregation
uses it with the gracious permission of the Portuguese Catholics.
It is a squat whitewashed building with a bell tower. The body
consists of a simple nave with whitewashed walls and small windows
up near the wooden vaulted ceiling, with stations of the cross
under the windows. On entering, the first thing you notice is
a large golden altar in a stone archway containing a central
statue of Mary carrying baby Jesus flanked by two other statues
which appear to be a knight in armour and a priest. To the right
of the altar is a large crucifix; to the left is a lectern with
the sanctuary light hanging behind it. At the back of the church
is a small gallery with a circular window.
The chaplaincy of St Vincent's stretches along the entire south
coast of Portugal, known as the Algarve, and comprises three
churches situated at Praia da Luz, Almancil and Gorjoes. At
this particular church, the Roman Catholics hold their services
in Portuguese and English and St Vincent's celebrates two holy
communion services each Sunday and one on Thursdays. St Vincent's
has other weekly meetings such as Kids Club, Bible study, prayer
group meetings, and a choir practice. When I looked in the pew
sheet at the names of readers, sidesmen and other officials,
I noticed some names that seemed to be Dutch, Scandinavian or
Germanic as well as English; so it appears that they minister
to people from a very broad range of traditions. On the third
Friday of each month there is a Vigil for Missing Children (Portuguese
and English). I presume this started with the
tragic disappearance of the English toddler Madeline McCann
in May 2007. I sincerely pray that she is discovered unharmed
and returned to her desperate parents as soon as possible.
Praia da Luz was originally a small fishing village with little
white fishermen's cottages and cobbled streets. It has expanded
considerably since the 1960s and is now a sprawl of villas and
apartments. It is adjacent to the very picturesque beach of
Praia da Luz, a golden sandy beach with deep orange cliffs on
either side leading to an azure calm sea. There is a promenade
complete with palm trees and benches backed by a cluster of
cafes, bars and restaurants. Besides being a holiday resort,
Praia da Luz is also home to many ex-pats from the UK, Scandinavia
and Germany. The village has an air of tranquility and contentment,
but it perhaps becomes livelier at the height of the holiday
season in July and August. Opposite the church is the Restaurante
da Fortaleza, which is next to a 500 year old fortress perched
above the rocks.
The Revd John Wilson, locum chaplain.
The date & time:
Sunday within the Octave of St Luke, 19 October 2008, 12.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
It was a small church but was almost completely full I would
say there were about 100 people. The congregation appeared to
be predominantly resident ex-pats, mostly retired, but there
were also quite a number of younger parents with their children.
All were smartly but casually dressed in summer attire. Many
carried shoe boxes covered with wrapping paper, the purpose
of which became clear later in the service.
Did anyone welcome you
A lady stood behind a stack of books piled high on a table outside
the entrance to the church. She greeted me with "Good morning"
and handed me a hymn book, a service book and a pew sheet. Two
ladies in the congregation smiled and said good morning as well.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wooden chair that was as comfortable as you could expect.
The chair in front had a little shelf for hymn books but was
far too small for the large hymn book I had been given. There
were no kneelers, and as I didn't fancy kneeling on the cold
marble floor I had to adopt the "Methodist crouch" a posture
that I do not feel comfortable with!
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Various people were doing little jobs and were conversing quietly.
Ladies were arranging flowers and adding more boxes to the pile
of shoe boxes in front of the altar. People kept disappearing
and coming out of a doorway to the right of the altar, which
presumably led to the vestry. One gentleman came out with what
I thought were two kneelers and I thought to myself, "Oh,
this is what you have to do if you want to kneel." However,
he and his companion proceeded to sit on them. I didn't think
the chairs were that hard!
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First and foremost
would you turn off your mobile phones. We are going to start
our service with Hymn 15."
What books did the congregation use during the
Hymns Old and New; St Vincent's Anglican Church
Worship for Ordinary Times; and a pew sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
An electric organ.
Did anything distract you?
The main doors to the church were left wide open, so there was
some street noise that we could have done without. About halfway
through the service, some loud amplified music started up, and
we could definitely have done without that! I found out later
that there was live jazz being performed in the restaurant opposite
the church but why it had to be broadcast to the whole of
the village is beyond my comprehension.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Bearing in mind that the resident congregation must have come
from all sorts of Anglican traditions in their original countries,
I thought it was middle of the road Anglican worship that perfectly
fitted the bill. The hymns were sung lustily by the congregation,
led by a choir of six ladies and two gentlemen who provided
descant accompaniments and lovely harmonies. Father John was
vested in a white alb with embroidery and a red chasuble. He
faced the congregation rather than adopting the eastward facing
position. At some point in the service the congregation were
asked to hold up their shoe boxes to be blessed. These shoe
boxes contained presents for underprivileged Portuguese children.
After the blessing, people were asked to bring the boxes up
to the altar to be placed with the others already there.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 I had the impression that he was reading from a well prepared script.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
It was about Luke the evangelist who, besides being a physician
and a painter, was a prolific writer. The intriguing aspect
about Luke was that he was a gentile, was not a disciple of
Jesus, and in fact never met Jesus. So how did he manage to
write so much about the birth, life and death of Jesus in his
own gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles, which takes up about
a quarter of the New Testament? The source was undoubtedly the
Blessed Virgin herself; Mary reminisced about her son to Luke.
It is Luke who wrote about the compassion that Jesus had for
sinners, outcasts, lepers, shepherds and the poor, and he emphasised
the role of women. Luke believed that Jesus Christ is the solution
to all our problems. Father John concluded by saying, "May
St Luke pray for us and our church today."
Which part of the service was like being in
I felt extremely choked up throughout most of the service. It
was a privilege to share in this Church of England service in
a foreign country. The singing of the hymns was enthusiastic
and the readings were delivered clearly. The prayers of intercession
were particularly beautiful; we prayed not only for Father Haynes
(the senior chaplain), Father John, and the Bishop of Gibraltar
and his assistant, but also for the Roman Catholic pastor of
Nossa Senhora da Luz and his superior, whose names I didn't
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
During the sanctus the lights went out and the electric organ
stopped. The music director gave one last wave of his baton
before retreating into the vestry, apparently to have a go at
the switch box. Luckily sunlight was streaming in through the
open door and the windows, so everyone carried on with the singing.
At length the director returned without having managed to restore
the electricity, and the service carried on. Some minutes later,
at the precise moment of the elevation of the host, all the
lights went back on. Now was that a miracle?!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Although we hung around for a little while no one approached
How would you describe the after-service
There were no after-service refreshments.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 If I won the lottery and lived here I would definitely
want to worship here.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Very much so. It was lovely to see how accommodating and Christian
the local Roman Catholic church has been to allow Anglicans
to use their building for worship.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Well, I am writing this report seven days later back in England,
and I remember the whole service with fondness as one of the
highlights of my holiday in the Algarve. If I have to pin it
down to one thing, it would have to be the power cut during
the sanctus and the return of electricity at the elevation of
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