area secretary visit to spain - The Methodist Church of Great Britain

Visit to Spain
By Colin Ride
Area Secretary, Europe
February 2004
This was my first visit to the Iglesia Evangélica Española1. It came from an invitation
by Dr Pedro Zamora, Director of SEUT2.
The purpose of the visit was to:
 Meet the new leaders of the IEE
 Visit the seminary in its new location in El Escorial
 Become more familiar with the work of the church and the problems and
opportunities they face
The visit concentrated on three locations – El Escorial (about one hour north of
Madrid); Madrid and Barcelona
Preached in Madrid at Iglesia de Cristo & then met with the Revd Alfredo
Abad, responsible for international relations
Met seminary staff, in particular Mark Abbott and Jonathan Rowe, and had a
further meeting with the Director, Dr Pedro Zamora and Revd Alfredo Abad
Visited Fundación Federico Fliedner3 – the El Porvenir school and bookshop.
Hosted by Bettina Zöckler, Secretaria de Relaciones Institucionales
Barcelona – met Mr Joel Cortés, President of IEE; Revd Enrique Capo,
former IEE President; visited Bet-San, Residencia Evangélica para Ancianos
and Centre Obert Moises, a children’s and young peoples project. Both are in
St Colomo
Visit to Juan de Valdés school in Madrid & the monastery at El Escorial
Evaluation of visit with Dr Pedro Zamora
The Spanish Evangelical Church and the Federico Fliedner Foundation
The work of the FFF was established in the 19th century by a German missionary to
Spain working with the IEE. The IEEs roots lie in the Methodist, Reformed and
Congregational churches. It works closely with the Iglesia Evangélica Alemana
(German Protestant Church in Spain). The Foundation is responsible for two
schools, El Porvenir and Juan de Valdés, a 130 year-old bookshop and the seminary.
From the start education has played a major part in the Foundation’s mission and
The Spanish Evangelical Church
Seminario Evangélico Unido de Teología
3 The Federico Fliedner Foundation
The Seminary4
The renewed buildings in El Escorial include the seminary, student residence, Ponce
de la Fuente, and El Castillo, a 16th century town house. The site also includes La
Chimenea, the building once used to fire the glass for the Monastery of San Lorenzo
of El Escorial. The original seminary was opened in 1884 by Federico Fliedner and
continued to teach students during the long years of religious persecution of
Protestants in Spain. In 1992 it was re-founded and in 2002 it moved to El Escorial. It
is a non-profit making centre for leadership formation. Its vision is to serve the
Church of the Spanish-speaking world. It bases its ministry on two main pillars that
are especially important for the creation of a high quality teaching institution in a
Hispanic context:
a. Academically sound programmes taught by properly qualified teachers;
b. A teaching approach that enables wide access, and integration of the
academic, practical and spiritual aspects of training.
Currently there are 111 students studying for the BA Theology degree and 6 full-time
residential, all from South America. The degree is accredited by the University of
Gloucestershire, Open Theological College (OTC). However this will end this
summer due the University of Gloucestershire stopping the BA in theology and not
having a Spanish-speaking staff member. Currently they are exploring other options
like the Open University. At this moment in time they can only gain accreditation for
their degrees outside the country due to all Spanish Universities with theological
departments being Roman Catholic. They will not accredit degrees gained in
Protestant institutions. However, there is now a draft bill before the Spanish
Parliament. If passed it will enable a Protestant faculty to apply for official recognition
of its degrees. The claim I heard was that up to 1978 there had only been seven
years of religious freedom since the Reformation.
SEUTs target groups are:
Part-time church leaders
Leaders who need to study full-time
Leaders who need refresher training
Professional Christian people
To all this a number of strategic objectives for the period 2000-2010 need to be
added including offering the OTCs translated course through the Spanish-speaking
world to a minimum of 200 students of which 20 are residential. Their next step is to
develop a Masters programme.
I was very impressed with the quality of the facilities available. There is a good library
of 10,000 books, 14 study bedrooms with en-suite facilities and equipped with
internet access, two good seminar rooms. There are ambitious plans for expansion.
All staff are qualified either to Doctorate or Master degree level. There is a strong
vision for the future, despite the very small number of Protestants in Spain (some
100,000 – 150,000 out of a population of 40m). However they are aware of their
vulnerable points. For instance, all the teaching staff are paid by their respective
mission agencies and the seminary is dependent on this continuing. There are
differences between the salary levels of European and American staff. The seminary
is a long way from being financially self-sufficient. Whilst income will increase as
A copy of the 2003 Annual Report is available from the Europe Desk, WCO
student numbers rise this will never bring sufficient income and in the longer term
endowment income is probably needed. They have made a new staff appointment Antonio González, an ex-Jesuit priest and previously a lecturer at the Pontifical
University of Comillas, Madrid. SEUT is now are looking for financial support to
secure the appointment.
The strength of the seminary lies in its academic quality and its vision for the
future including the further development of the property.
Its main weakness is financial as it is dependant on external funding.
They hope for a development relationship with a British theological institution
The visit convinced me of the need for all the Methodist seminaries in Europe
(and wider?) to be linked to each other so they can share expertise, ideas and
collaborate over developments in theological education.
The Schools
In the 21st century the vision of the FFF in a context of a modern secular democracy
is that the schools should provide a high quality and balanced education, with a
special emphasis on moral and personal development. El Porvenir was founded in
1898 to provide secondary education for bright students from Protestant families who
had suffered discrimination in either Catholic or state institutions, although the
student body has always included other confessions. The history of the evangelical
Church in Spain means that the schools place a special emphasis upon freedom of
thought and mutual respect for others’ belief. During the fascist period children had
to be boarded as they were not allowed to be educated in their own villages and
parents had to visit them at the school.
Both schools are the equivalent of grant-maintained status and provide infant,
primary and secondary education to the age of 16. El Porvenir has 340 students with
a planned growth to 700. 25% are immigrants, mainly from Latin America. Juan de
Valdés has 930 students aged 2 – 16 and has a planned growth to 14005.
The FFF has its own programme of grants that assist about 110 students. This is a
project to support children from immigrant families to integrate into the Spanish
education system, extra-curricula remedial classes and extra-curricula social
Both schools offer a bilingual Spanish-English education normally only available to
elite fee paying schools. In primary sector the ratio is 50 / 50 and in secondary at the
moment it is 30 / 70 in favour of Spanish. Apparently there is a strong demand from
parents for bi-lingual education. Spanish-speaking staff are expected to take the
Cambridge English exam and undertake a TEFL course. However English -speaking
staff are not expected to undertake a similar course.
They would like links with Christian schools in Britain.
The Spanish Evangelical Church
The Church: 44 churches and communities
7 Presbyteries
1631 members
25 pastors
plus a small number of social projects among the elderly and with
children and young people in particular.
April 2002 figures
Its main numerical strengths are in Catalunya and Madrid. Most of the churches are
very scattered and isolated from each other. Some people will travel a long way
each Sunday to be part of a worshipping community. However the new leadership in
the church, led by Mr Joel Cortés, (the first lay President) and the Comisión
Permanente has completed a very significant analysis of the church, its membership,
financial needs and different forms of outreach and work with children, young people
and the elderly. This was presented to the 2003 Synod under the theme: Nueva
estrategia de futuro : Para una Iglesia en Misién6. As a consequence they are facing
up to the challenges of the withdrawal of “Round Table” funding in 2005 and the
issue of pensions for retired ministers, two of their main concerns. They are
challenging the church members to develop a clearer understanding of their mission
and a commitment to it. The Church runs a number of social projects and institutions.
I visited two, both St Colomo, a suburb on the outskirts of Barcelona.
Bet-San (Residencia evangélica para ancianos) has 55 elderly residents and a staff
of 25. I gained the impression of it being a very caring and happy home. The
Director, Encarma Corral, is a very lively and committed person.
Centre Obert Moises: is a project that works with 15 severely disadvantaged children
and young people. The minister, the Revd Carman Sánchez, is highly respected for
the development of some quality work with these children through an after-school
club at which a range of activities and support are available. The centre could work
with 21 children but the local authority has decided that 15 is the maximum due to the
dilemmas and challenges they pose to the staff.
Future Developments
The IEE may be small but the new leadership is working hard to enable it to move
from dependency to independency. There are signs of growing confidence despite
living in a culture that, at times, still does not recognise their presence. Whilst in the
eyes of the law they have equality this does not necessarily filter through in practice.
There is evidence that Roman Catholic institutions have privileges not available to
Protestants. For instance, RC can reclaim back VAT on buildings but Protestants
The few days taken to develop our relationships with IEE were important and
worthwhile. The new leadership in the church is out-going and enthusiastic in its role.
They look forward to future collaborative work with us. I am grateful for the hospitality
I received and for the openness in which various people shared their hopes and
fears, their history and their visions for the future.
Colin Ride
Area Secretary - Europe
“Our Strategy for the Future: For a Church and Mission