Seminarian Reflections - John Marsden Hunt
When I fist met Father Canon Spencer Reece and Bishop Don Carlos Lopez Lozano at Berkeley/Yale Divinity School, my mind immediately went back to the time I lived in Madrid for a year and a half following my graduation from Princeton. Specifically, there was one instance that has never left my memory. I was talking to one of my Spanish friends and somehow we got on the subject of religion. In a conversation entirely in Spanish, he asked me ‘what I was’. I replied that I was Episcopalian. Immediately recognizing that might not be familiar to him, I said, similar to the Church of England. He nodded and said, “ah, pues aqui somos Christianos” (ah, well here we are Christians).
It is very easy to study and understand the 781 years of internal warfare that was the Spanish ‘Reconquista’ in certain abstract ways, or to consider the titular reference to the Spanish monarchs as, Most Catholic Majesties, or to have an opinion on the Spanish Catholic Church’s allegiance with the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930’s. These things can be viewed dispassionately and academically. Nevertheless, they define Spain. Similarly, for me nothing was more indicative of the reality of life in Spain as a non-Roman Catholic than what my friend had said to me some 25 years ago as if he were simply drinking water.
When I looked at Fr. Spencer and the Bishop at Berkeley morning prayer that morning that I first met them in 2017, I wondered how hard their jobs must be. It was not an abstract thought. I know intimately the culture in Spain. It is a culture that is unfailingly warm, caring, kind and welcoming. It is also inherently private, passionate and Roman Catholic.
I also know that General Francisco Franco actively persecuted the Iglesias Episcopal Reformada España (The Reformed Episcopal Church in Spain – IERE) immediately following the end of the Spanish Civil War, (including the execution of three IERE priests) and continued to make existence for IERE difficult until Franco’s death in 1975. The realities of these sorts of challenges are neither distant nor abstract.
It was these things, along with my love of Spain and the Episcopal church, that caused me to jump when the opportunity arose to do a summer internship at the cathedral in Madrid. Nothing, however, could prepare me for what I encountered there.
At the heart of IERE are two of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure to meet; Bishop Don Carlos Lopez Lozano and his wife Doña Ana Rodriquez Domingo. Both the Bishop and Doña Ana grew up in Franco governed Spain, and neither identified intimately with the Roman Catholic Church. I experienced only one instance where my faith was dismissed as something other than Christian; the Bishop and Doña Ana grew up surrounded by that attitude.
This, I learned during my summer supervised ministry internship, is what is at the very heart of IERE; an unshakable empathy of what it is like to live a life of faith on the margins. What I love most about IERE, however, is Bishop Lopez Lozano’s empathetic response; that of determinedly and faithfully providing a space and environment where everyone, everyone is welcome and everyone may find their way to encounter God.