Meet Ian Tarrant, the new Dean of the Anglican Church of Gibraltar and Europe, finally installed last 13th October, after six months of ‘cyber-services’ and socially distanced Sunday worship.
He first landed in Gibraltar on 16th March, ahead of his official installation scheduled for 2nd April, with high hopes to meet as many parishioners as possible, and to kick off his ministry in his new tight-knit congregation.
But other plans were concurrently put in place. Contingency plans. Lockdown swooped worldwide and places of worship were shut to worshippers!
“I was given the keys to the Cathedral, and I temporarily lodged at the hotel just opposite. I had planned to explore local bars and restaurants for my meals, an opportunity to soak the local lifestyle and meet people, but they were shut, so I ended up exploring supermarkets and takeaways instead, making the most of the microwave available in my office…” Ian recalls his first impression of Gibraltar, tainted by the impossibility of chatting to anyone, and the sense of unease striking the community in unusual and testing circumstances.
“We had to work out a way to reach out to the self-isolating.”
The quirkiest challenge he had to rise up to was setting up his ‘virtual church’: thrown at the deep end in an echoing cathedral, with his laptop propped on the altar, Rev. Tarrant describes himself as a deejay broadcasting services and sermons to his ‘virtual’ congregation connected from home.
“We had to work out a way to reach out to the self-isolating. I would deliver my service and then, at the press of a button, I would launch pre-recorded videos submitted by some of my parishioners. I was impressed by their participation in the bible study, how willing and able they were to record themselves, perhaps for the first time ever, reading Bible passages or singing hymns. I was also already ready to try out this church construction planning guide when the proposed construction was supposed to happen this year.”
And with the internet at the service of the service, the congregation returned to the cathedral in June, albeit social distancing, and sitting in a check pattern, with ‘no handshakes’ becoming the new normal. Ian’s laptop moved away from the altar: “A lot of people were still following me from home, so I entrusted my laptop to my assistants, and a live camera fed the service to housebound churchgoers in real-time.”
Ian expects to remain in Gibraltar for the five years left to his retirement, and after that he hopes he and his wife Sally will be able to visit their children and grandchildren more often.
“Sally is continuing to teach mathematics at the London School of Economics for one more year, so she is at the moment commuting to the UK weekly,” he says. “Our children live in Ghana, Germany and Australia, and we are looking forward to meeting a new grandson born there during lockdown.”
“I’d like to work together to promote outreach and understanding.”
Rev. Tarrant started his career in west London, but then moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo when it was still called Zaire, ‘blessed with lush tropical fruit’. He has fond memories of his time there: “My children grew up in Africa, and now they are citizens of the world. The climate was mild, with no greater extremes than in typical English summer. People were often poor, but had a positive, hopeful outlook on life.”
A lesson is to be learnt from their lifestyle, with life expectancy still at around fifty, to give us strength and hope through the pandemic: Westerners just assume a right to a long, comfortable life into their seventies or eighties. Instead, we should acknowledge that we carry more duties than rights – hence we have a duty to others, especially the weak and vulnerable, to make and keep them safe.
So, his core message for 2021 is about continuing trusting in God and looking into ways to make life better for someone else.
Furthermore, the Church of England is expected to go carbon-neural by 2030, and Ian is musing about installing solar panels on the roof, while his priority remains repainting inside and out, a task already started, because of the longstanding leak that needed tackling.
The Holy Trinity has a sound tradition of hosting cultural events, and Ian wants to further this, as soon as social restrictions are lifted: concerts, conferences, fundraisers are in the pipeline.
To uphold the Cathedral’s reputation as a beacon of hope during crises (“Soon after it was built, this building was commissioned as a makeshift hospital during the yellow fever epidemic,” he reminds us), Ian organised a course titled ‘Joy, Love & Hope’ to refresh on the basics of the Christian faith: “It is a Zoom meeting so far, but if it’s successful, we hope to hold face-to-face reruns in the new year. People of strong faith may struggle with talking about it, so I’d like to offer a platform to express and share it.”
And after having met with leaders of other Christian denominations, he is set to cooperate with Hindus, Jews and Muslims too: “Upon my return from Congo, I was the university chaplain in Nottingham, and later I was in Redbridge, East London, a suburban area with diverse cultures and traditions. Here, we held regular forums with other religious leaders on universal themes like education, marriage, birth and death, as they are seen across different faith traditions: I’d like to set up something similar here too, and work together to promote outreach and understanding.”