The church: St Vincent’s, Praia da Luz, Algarve, Portugal.
Denomination: Church of England, Diocese in Europe.
The building: 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 church: 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.
The neighbourhood: 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 cast: 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.
[There is more at http://www.ship-of-fools.com/mystery/2008/1637.html ]
Here is what the interior of the church looked like in Oct 2008.