Lynne Booker September 2013
A change in the personal circumstances of Steve and Teresa Carrington 6 years ago made them review their life plans. In a few devastating months both of their fathers died and Steve suffered a tumour in his eye. In spite of the fact that their children and grandchildren continue to live in the UK, they decided to retire early and to make a new life in Spain. After staying near Tavira with Teresa´s sister, however, they felt an affinity with the area and revised their plan. They now live in Tavira, and have joined Tavira Christian Centre (the Associação, Light of the World Communities). Two years afterwards, the incumbent Pastor was forced to return to Britain and Steve found himself taking over as Pastor.
Steve became a committed Christian only when he was 45. He admits to studying long and hard to understand what it means to be a Christian and his theological training comes from the University of Life! He has run Alpha courses for both believers and non-believers. He himself believes in exploring Christianity in a relaxed way. People need to be welcomed, be treated in a friendly manner and given spiritual guidance when necessary, he said. Teresa used to work in administration, and she puts her experience to good use in helping to organise the Church and the charity shop, which they run with volunteer help.
Their Church benefits from the leadership of a team comprising Steve, Teresa, Else and Beth and their vision statement is based on five principles: to live with love and integrity; to perform acts of charity, mercy and kindness to those around them; to have unity of purpose; to hold regular meetings; and to preach the gospel through their example and through spreading the good news.
There are eighteen full time resident members of the Church and others who come and go throughout the year and so congregations at their services range between twenty and forty. Of course the spiritual role of any Church is paramount, but Teresa recalls how the charity shop began. The previous Pastor, Jackie King was given three plastic bags of clothes to be used for the community and the idea of a charity shop was born, and its success has mushroomed. There are 20 or so shop volunteers to open up on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays between 10 am and 12.30 pm. Information about the Church is placed in the hotels in Tavira, in local newspapers, and in advertisements in shop windows, but Steve maintains that word of mouth is the best means to publicise their activities.
One of the difficulties about supporting people in the community is finding the people that really need it said Teresa. Steve went on to express the importance of the Church´s relationships with the Portuguese run organisations in the area, such as the Red Cross, the Associação Uma Porta Amiga, the Salvation Army, the Social Services, residential homes for the disabled and other care homes. Already the Church has raised over €20,000 and has been able to help provide emergency shopping; furniture and household goods for a family whose home was destroyed in the fire of July 2012; yearly Christmas presents and hampers for children and elderly folk; a generator for a man living in a container; a wheelchair for a young man with cerebral palsy. The Church helps whenever possible to support the 300 homeless families living in the Tavira municipality and to provide orthopaedic aids such as walking sticks, zimmer frames, wheelchairs and furniture for residential homes.
For Uma Porta Amiga, the Church has also provided five computers for use by staff and children and because, as Steve, drily said, some children feel such stress that they need somehow to vent their emotions, the Church hás provided a punch bag but only one pair of boxing gloves. The Church also gives monetary support to the East Algarve collection by the Samaritans and to the Turn on the Tap appeal to provide water for African communities.
As a result of the recession, a car dealership in Rua José Joaquim Jara closed down and in June this year, the Church and shop moved into the vacated showroom. This spacious location is now big enough to provide both a meeting place and a focus for the community. Steve has high hopes that more Portuguese people will begin to use the shop and in due course come to worship in the showroom Church. He also lives in keen anticipation that at least some of the present shop volunteers might think of joining the Church. The space at number 82 Rua José Joaquim Jara is big enough also for the meetings of the Tavira branch of the Algarve Rock Choir (Saturday afternoons between 2 pm and 4 pm). The Algarve Rock Choir has raised more than €600 at two concerts, and this money has been donated to local Tavira charities. At the Christmas fundraising event to be held in the cinema in São Brás, the Algarve Rock Choir will perform together with the Salvation Army, and the proceeds will go to charity.
Although Teresa and Steve came here to retire, their weekly schedule is demanding. There is Sunday workship at 10.30 am every week; prayer meetings on alternate Tuesdays between 8 pm and 9 pm; a prayer morning for ladies on alternate Fridays at 10.30 am; Bible Studies on Thursdays at 4 pm and 8 pm; and the shop is open on three mornings every week. Of course using such premises means that the usual cleaning and administrative work needs to be done.
The contribution to the community made by Steve and Teresa Carrington has been truly amazing. They have changed location to Portugal to become involved in rewarding community work. At the end of our interview, Steve expressed appreciation of the contributions and sheer hard work of the team of volunteers. As he put it, it is people that make the Church, not the building.
The Alpha course is a course which seeks to explore the basics of the Christian faith, described by its organisers as "an opportunity to explore the meaning of life".Alpha courses are currently being run in churches, homes, workplaces, prisons, universities and a wide variety of other locations. The course is being run around the world by all major Christian denominations.
Link to Portugal Resident: