RELIGION IN FRANCE
OH COME ALL YE FETEFUL...The Church's social attitude keeps the newcomers flocking.
The traditional Sunday service may not be exactly what springs to mind when you’re thinking of ways to meet people in Paris, but as parisfranceguide.com found out, there’s a lot more going on in Paris’s Anglophone churches than you might have thought. Of course, regular worship is at the heart of any church and these are no exception, but there’s plenty of things going on besides, from prayer groups to pizza nights. Everyone is welcome, so whether you’re a regular churchgoer or not, you’ll be interested to know what each church offers... and parisfranceguide.com has done the work for you! Read on to find out more about some of the city’s most active churches.
The Church has always played as much a social as a spiritual role in the community, and for international congregations the social life offered by the church is perhaps the most important thing. “If you don’t have a strong liturgical base, and serious study of scripture, everything else just falls apart. This is what people come to us for, after all.” emphasises Canon George Hobson from the American Cathedral in Paris. But at the same time any international church plays a vital role in bringing like-minded people together and providing a focus for an otherwise disparate community. All churches have pastoral staff that are open, friendly and keen to ensure the well being of their “flock”. Anthony Wells from St. Michael’s Anglican Church believes the Church has a lot to offer besides weekly worship. “Confronting people with religion isn’t the best way of letting people discover the church. Lots of people are initially attracted to it through friendship or the community spirit it offers which, of course, people need badly when they move abroad”.
Judging by the range of events and activities organised by the churches, it’s a role they take very seriously indeed. Music is central to the life of the American Cathedral. The Organist and Choirmaster Ned Tipton co-ordinates a wide range of events, which run all year, ranging from weekly sung services to mammoth concerts with the Paris Choral Society, based at the cathedral. The cathedral itself boasts a girl’s, a boy’s and a senior choir and a fantastic organ. There is always plenty going on, with a Montessori school, youth groups for children, teenagers and college students and several women’s groups. The famous Junior’s Guild fair has been going since 1920, selling goodies from crafts to baked goods and used books. Look out for the next one on December 4th and 5th 2005. Like many churches, the American Cathedral has a notice board packed with ads for housing and employment—offers and requests! The cathedral offers a free counselling service every month. As for the building itself, the spire can be spotted from a distance and the place is just as impressive up close. Consecrated in the same year as the Statue of Liberty (1886), the cathedral is a fine example of Victorian Gothic architecture. It boasts stunning English stained glass windows depicting the Te Deum and an altarpiece designed by Edwin Abbey. All in all, a wonderful place to worship.
The American Church also has impressive premises down on the Quai d’Orsay. Dating back to 1814, it was the first American church established on foreign soil. The corner stone of the current building was laid in 1929 and it was consecrated in 1931. The church shares its premises with the Franco-American Community Center and you’re sure to find something happening whenever you drop in—the reception is open until 8pm on Sunday and from 9am to 10.30pm Monday to Saturday! There are two bilingual crèches as well as a Church School on Sunday mornings and youth groups for kids of all ages. The legendary “Bloom Where You’re Planted” workshop is a practical, two-day seminar for new arrivals in France. It takes place every October and March and provides invaluable tips for day-to-day survival, from opening a bank account to finding a doctor. Dates for 2004 are October 5th and 12th and then there is another session in March 2005 on 15th. There are also numerous friendship and bible study groups. The regular pizza nights for college students promise “good food and great conversation” and seem to double as an unofficial singles joint—many of the young married couples in the church have the pizza nights to thank for their marital bliss! The weekly Atelier Concerts take place on Sundays at 6pm and have been going for 100 years. They are free to the public and are a great place to enjoy up-and-coming classical talent. The place is a veritable hive of activity, and new faces are always welcome.
The smaller churches also run a huge range of activities, revealing an energy, which belies their smaller congregations and more limited resources. The Hope International Church runs Life Groups every week throughout Paris, where people get together for relaxed Bible study, prayer and friendship. “People come all the way out to La Défense every Sunday because they like our way of doing things,” says Frederic Henry. “Music is a big part of our worship and we often have the band playing during the service. People stay around afterwards for coffee, it’s a real opportunity to get together and make friends.” The Hope International Church is looking for a home in central Paris and it has big plans afoot, once a permanent residence is granted.
The Scots Kirk is on the move too. Five years ago it succeeded in raising €300,000 to rebuild its church on the Rue Bayard, just off the chic Avenue Montaigne. Rev Bill Reid saw this as an exciting pit stop in the development of this church, which has been going strong in Paris since 1858. The activities organised by the church such as ceilidhs, weekly Scottish country dancing, friendship lunches and youth groups will continue apace throughout the moving period.
The Emmanuel Baptist Church has lots happening out in Rueil Malmaison. They have youth and women’s groups in the church itself and many home groups every week throughout Paris, where the emphasis ranges from socialising and fellowship to Bible study and prayer.
St. Michael’s (http://www.saintmichaelsparis.org) is also looking forward to welcoming this year’s new arrivals to Paris, with a range of services from the traditional to the more informal, as well as weekly meals after the evening service for the 18-28s. This is just a part of their strong 18-28s ministry at St. Michael’s, who always welcomes people even if they initially just come along for the social life and fellowship. St Michael’s also has a thriving children’s and young people’s ministry – most of which happens at the family service which takes place at quarter past eleven on Sunday.
The church service at St Michaels says Tim Norman “attracts all kinds of people some of them permanent, some of them temporary, who are attracted not just by the fact that the service is in English but the style of the preaching. The service has become so popular among the French that there is now a separate service in French. And the popularity among the Tamul population is such that the Church is looking out for alternative space to house worshippers.
St Michael’s was once the official church of the British Embassy, and perks for its employees include the occasional *bleep*tail reception at The British Embassy! Smart parties aside, there are all sorts of social events running all year round, ranging from Blues Nights to Classical Concerts and Arts Festivals, and hikes to picnics.
St. Michael’s run the renowned Alpha course twice a year – an opportunity to explore the meaning of life and to ask those questions you have always wanted to ask. The course is run on Thursday evenings in English and in French, each evening starting with a meal, followed by a talk and discussion time in small groups. The course also includes the option of a day away, which is a key part of the course, as well as being great fun.
St. George’s Anglican Church, situated in a quiet street near the Arc de Triomphe, is well know, even beyond the borders of France, for its keeping of the great Festivals of the Church and, in particular, Holy Week and Easter. Anglican worship with a fine choir and strong preaching can be found every day of that week and all rounded off by a traditional Easter lunch of roast lamb! In fact, Sunday lunches are a regular feature of the life of St. Georges.
Churches are also a good place to start if you’re looking to escape from the pressures of Paris for a while and many churches organise “Church Weekends” where the whole congregation decamps to the country for a few days of fellowship and socialising. It’s a great opportunity to learn too. St. Michael’s has their Church Weekend at the start of November 2004 and is looking forward to a great time together at Nevers, in the Loire Valley.
So who exactly does go to church in Paris? There is no typical profile, but the majority are young, international professionals. “Our congregation is full of students, au pairs, professionals, and has a huge ethnic range—in our congregation of 130 we have about 25 different nationalities,” enthuses Frederic Henry, Pastor of the Hope International Church (La Défense). “This is a new kind of person. You can define them sociologically but not ethnically. A lot of these people are the result of the globalisation of business and study. They are well-travelled and open minded: we show them that through God and a warm community they can put down spiritual roots which are in many ways stronger than the geographical roots they may have sacrificed.”
Larry Kalajainen, Senior Pastor at the American Church in Paris seconds this feeling. “Our congregation has become visibly younger even in the last five or ten years, and this is because companies are now posting staff abroad at an earlier stage in their career. They come here often with young families, and a very positive attitude to the new experience.” As an interdenominational church, the American Church welcomes Christians from all backgrounds, and Dr. Kalajainen is proud of the perhaps surprising fact that about 25% of his congregation is Catholic!
Things have definitely moved on since the days when Paris’ Anglophone churches were filled to the rafters with business tycoons and British colonials. The modern Anglophone church in Paris is more international than “ex-pat”, and the typical congregation is made up of an exciting mix of denominations and nationalities. The shift is reflected in the trend over the last few years for churches to advertise. This might look to some like the final triumph of the consumer culture, but in reality it just goes with the territory for a modern international church. Not for them the traditional ties of family and geography, which have kept bums on pews in parish churches for centuries. And gone too are the days when these churches reflected a small, closed and pre-formed community of high class Americans. Some of these churches have a strong presence already, either because they are old and well established, or simply because they are lucky enough to have beautiful premises in the centre of Paris.
But this is not the case for all. Some of the most vibrant congregations worship in rented conference rooms or smaller buildings in the suburbs. Advertising is simply a way of reaching out to a broader range of people. It is the best way of letting people know where to find a point of contact when they arrive in Paris, often with little experience of the language, the culture and the practicalities of getting by in France.
One thing all these churches have in common is their commitment to provide spiritual care and an open, welcoming community for English speakers in Paris. This aside, each church has its own particular projects and endeavours. One new initiative at the American Cathedral in Paris is the francophone ministry. While continuing to hold services in English throughout the week, the Cathedral is now seeking to reinforce its existing links with the local French community with regular services in French. This is a definite departure for a traditionally Anglophone cathedral. “We are reaching all kinds of new people through our services in French”, says Canon George Hobson. “This is something very exciting for us.” David Houghton, Chaplain of St. George’s, also reminds us that Anglicans are not always, or even mainly English speaking. There is a monthly service for the Madagascan community and a number of French speakers from different parts of the world can find a home in the weekly English Sunday Eucharist.
As you might expect, international churches have a pretty high congregation turnover. The up side of this problem is that for those who are keen to play an active role in the life of the church, there are always opportunities to get stuck in and involve oneself in the many different activities they organise. Of course, all these churches have a core congregation which provides some essential continuity, but many people worship with them for only a couple of years, or maybe even months, before having to move on. “This is no bad thing,” says Scott Stearman from the Emmanuel Baptist Church of Paris. “It means the congregation is fantastically dynamic and forward-looking. There are always plenty of new faces and everyone has new ideas to bring to the life of the church.” There are other advantages too. For Larry Kalajainen, one of the great things about working in an international church is the lack of rivalry and church politics—people just aren’t around long enough to make enemies or accumulate a lot of power in the church.
Most churches these days pretty much fly by the seat of their pants when it comes to finances, and international churches are no exception. So how do they pay their way? Many rely heavily on the generosity of their congregation, and the collection usually makes up a hefty portion of the church’s income. Some are lucky enough to get financial help from their “parent churches” in the States, others receive donations from former members of the congregation who want to support the continuing work of the church—the “alumni principle” is definitely alive and kicking in America! But it’s never easy, especially for those churches that have to pay for the upkeep of large, old buildings. “It’s important for the church to be an open, welcoming place where people feel they can come in and wander round at any time,” says Canon Hobson. “But it costs money.”
Despite the obvious constraints, these churches have not forgotten their role as a source of charity for the poor and weak. “The day the church stops caring for those in need is the day it closes its doors” affirms Rev Bill Reid. Although each church obviously seeks to cater to the needs of its own congregation, they would never sit back and watch the church become nothing more than a glorified social club. 10% of the collection at the American Cathedral, for example goes to support a range of international worthy causes, and they organise a weekly luncheon and service together with the Chaillot Church for local homeless and unemployed people. The American Church allows a range of charities and support groups use their rooms for free as a way of supporting their work.
International churches are well aware of the need to be forward looking and move with the times when it comes to technology, and you can find them all on email and the Internet. Scott Stearman has concrete evidence of how useful these kind of media can be to an international church. “Many new members of the congregation have found us through the web even before leaving America. It’s wonderful to be able to reach people like this.”
All in all, there is a lot going on in Paris’s Anglophone churches and they’re definitely a good place to make friends during your stay in Paris, whether you’re here for ten days or ten years.
If you’re travelling further a field, you’ll be sure of a warm welcome at St. Marks Anglican/Episcopalian church down on the Cote d’Azur. Situated between Nice and Cannes in the midst of a thriving science park (who said technology and religion don’t mix?!), the church serves the international ex-pat community through its weekly services based on the Americain Episcopalian service book.
The congregation meets every Sunday in a school hall, and everyone helps to transform it in preparation for worship. Bishop Jeffery Rowthorn was impressed with what he saw, “At St. Marks, a quality of life is nurtured which newcomers and founding members alike value and appreciate. A quality of life, which is strengthened and maintained because even before a service begins, so many people are actively involved in making that service possible.” Rev. Ralph Cope, accompanied by his wife Gloria, has just arrived from British Colombia, Canada to take up his appointment at the church. “We come from an incredibly beautiful part of God’s World, Vancouver Island, but we appreciate very much the opportunity to live in France, to learn its language, history and customs, and the privilege of sharing in its culture.” They look forward to leading the church into an exciting future.
St Marks can be found at 10bis rue Tristan Tzara, 06600, Antibes. tel 04 93 33 81 53.
All the Paris churches mentioned in this article and many more can be found in the parisfranceguide.com Yellow Pages. Newcomers will always receive a warm welcome, whatever your nationality, language or denomination, and it’s a great way to meet people even if you do not have a churchgoing background.