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Scenes from Clerical Life (8) Gibraltar

May 8, 2009

After five years of my being Vicar-General of the Diocese from the Westminster Office, the Bishop asked me to become Dean of the Cathedral of the Diocese, which is situated on the Rock of Gibraltar at the south of Spain. In less ecumenical days, the Church of England didn’t use Roman Catholic or Protestant church buildings as we do now, so it was felt that the Cathedral must be on British territory. This set up a race between Malta and Gibraltar as to which would get the Cathedral, and Gibraltar won. As a consolation prize, the church in Malta was called the Pro-Cathedral. And since the enormous expansion of Anglican chaplaincies in northern Europe, Holy Trinity, Brussels has also been designated a Pro-Cathedral. 

When I moved into the Deanery, it felt like going back fifty years. Though it has only about 30,000 inhabitants, Gibraltar is a country in miniature. It has a Governor sent by the Queen, who lives in a palatial residence called the Convent (as it once was); a Prime Minister and Parliament locally elected; a Supreme Court, Police Force, customs force, etc. Most of the people are Roman Catholic, and there is a Roman Catholic Diocese of Gibraltar with one Bishop and a dozen priests. The Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar lives near London and my Cathedral had just three priests and ministered to a very small number of locals who were Anglican.

Nevertheless, Gibraltar is a very important base for the Royal Navy, Army and Airforce and since most of these were nominally Anglican and some attended the Cathedral, they became very much part of my ministry. Ships from the US Navy also called in to Gibraltar a lot. Though this added to my workload, the military presence did have its advantages. Often, when I gave a dinner in the Deanery, which was a big Regency mansion which had formerly been the officers club for the Royal Engineers, I could ask a couple of dozen people to a sit-down dinner without having to worry about cooking, serving or washing up. This was all taken care of by half a dozen sailors whom I borrowed for the evening!

There is also quite a large Jewish population in Gibraltar because they have found it over the centuries a place of refuge from the persecutions of both Muslims in Morocco and Roman Catholics in Spain. Ecumenical relations were excellent with them and the other Christian bodies on the Rock. I even found myself one day sitting in the front row of a newly built Hindu Temple for its opening. I still have a press photo of the Roman Catholic Bishop, the Methodist minister and myself sitting there in front of a platform filled with elephant-headed and monkey-headed Hindu gods while quarter-tone music was sung. Not quite Mattins in Westminster Abbey!

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