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Celebrating the Reformation in Spain--which is 1% Protestant

Celebrating the Reformation in Spain--which is 1% Protestant

by the Rev. Dr. Duane Miller
November 3, 2017

As an American I'm more used to taking my kids out trick-or-treating on October 31. But they don't do that in Spain. Rather, on that night I was part of a grand celebration of the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. And that in a country that is roughly 1% Protestant. Indeed, the Muslim population of Madrid is much larger than the Protestant population.

The Reformation fell on hard times in Spain. The Spanish Inquisition was vibrant and energetic and that institution was not disbanded until 1834. This meant that anyone sympathetic to Protestant ideas had to flee from Spain or keep their ideas to themselves.

Gibraltar, under the British Crown, was a haven for some of those who fled. One of those was a Catholic priest named Juan Bautista Cabrera (1837--1916). He arrived there in 1863. There in Gibraltar he attended Methodist, Presbyterian, and Anglican churches. While there, he translated much of Edward Browne's study of the Church of England's Articles of Religion. After the Spanish revolution of 1868 he and other reformers were assured of freedom of religion in Spain and so they returned.

In 1880 five Protestant congregations from around Spain met together in Madrid and formed what is today knows as the Iglesia Española Reformada Episcopal (IERE) or the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain. Cabrera would eventually be ordained as the first bishop of this church by bishops from the Church of Ireland. As time progressed this church went through many difficult seasons, including a lengthy season without a bishop. At one time the church was down to three or four elderly clerics as presbyters were not permitted to travel abroad to be ordained by three bishops, nor were foreign Protestant bishops allowed to visit at the same time to ordain a new bishop. Finally, in 1954 a bishop from the Church of Ireland and two American Episcopal bishops from the dioceses of Northern Indiana and Minnesota were allowed to visit and ordained Santos Molina as the church's second bishop--after 38 years without one. In 1980 the IERE was formally admitted as a member of the Anglican Communion. As it is a single diocese, it is technically an extraprovincial church under the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The cathedral of Spain is the Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer in Madrid. The congregation was founded in 1869 by Antonio Carrasco (d. 1873). The current building was dedicated in 1893 and is thus the oldest Protestant church in Spain. At present the cathedral has no dean, but has two presbyters and two deacons on the pastoral staff. It is a lively place with eight weekly services, an Alpha course, over ten recovery groups, a weekly talk on Anglicanism, free English classes, two days of food pantry, and more. The services are mostly in Spanish, but the people attending come from far and wide--England, Morocco, the Philippines, Romania, Colombia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, El Salvador, Venezuela, and more.

And so on October 31st of 2017 a solemn Te Deum in the context of evening prayer was held at 7 pm. In attendance were some 90 people in addition to the bishop, six presbyters, three deacons, and a lay reader serving as crucifer.

The Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain uses the ancient Spanish liturgy--the Mozarabic rite. In this it is different from so many other Anglican bodies, as most (or all?) of them derive their prayer books from a version of the English prayer book. In addition to a small choir were two young ladies playing French horn and violin to accompany the organ. The hymns were All Creatures of our God and King, Onward Christians Soldiers, and Bach's own arrangement of Luther's A Mighty Fortress.

The sermon was lengthy by Anglican standards--27 minutes--but was a stirring reminder that the Reformation stood on the Bible as the Word of God and restored that Word to the People of God. The preacher--a deacon--repeatedly cited Luther's sixty-second thesis: "The true treasure of the Church is the most holy Gospel of the grace and glory of God." While the Reformation had resulted in many changes--social, political, economical--returning the Word of God to the people was its most powerful and significant result. It was an erudite and energetic sermon, preached without so much as an outline.

The deacon who preached the sermon is responsible for a tiny mission of some six to twelve persons on a given Sunday. When one contrasts the grandeur of the cathedral worship with the littleness of this mission, one begins to grasp the tenuous but beautiful reality of the main presence of Anglicans in Spain.

The person leading the evening prayer was one of the cathedral deacons. During the prayers she recited this prayer of thanksgiving and remembrance of her own composition based on existing Mozarabic prayers for this special service:

On this special day we thank you for all who have fought to preach your Word, like Luther, and to teach us through their preaching that salvation is found only in Jesus and his blood shed on the cross for us. And that only through reading and studying the Word of God are we able to declare our faith [in you]--by that Word we ask that you guide us daily and that you enlighten us when we approach you by reading the holy Gospel. We thank you, for we have learned that the foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ and only he can save her, and that the duty of the Christian is to serve God with faithfulness, for you are clement and merciful and generous in your grace.

I think of that bishop from Ireland. I think of those two bishops from the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA. I mean, the ones who went to extraordinary lengths in 1954 to confer holy orders on the second bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church of Spain. I also think of Luther and Cranmer and Bucer. I think they would be proud--that they are proud. Or better than that, joyful and thankful.

The people left. They were joyful and thankful. I do not think it, but know it.

The Rev. Duane Miller and his familty are missionaries in Spain

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