With the eve of our departure from France less than two weeks away, I start thinking about the various parts of our life here that we have never taken the time to share with everyone. Alas, we won't get to all of them, but it's worth letting you know a bit about our church here.
Background: France, like much of Western Europe is often described as "post-Christian" or certainly "not as Christian as they used to be". Operation World describes the French population (of more than 60 million people) as less than 1% "evangelical". Unless you utterly discount the faith of all French catholics, it's a bit difficult to interpret that number, so I'll give you a few basic observations.
There are several old Catholic churches in our town of 18,000. Because of low attendance, they do not all hold weekly services. Instead, a priest will circulate between them, one each week, to hold a service for the few practicing Catholics. My brother-in-law, who grew up outside Paris, has told me that the most common way the French have described their faith in demographic surveys is as "non-believing Catholics", which is, of course, not exactly beating around the bush. France has a strong history of ardent secularism, which sets it apart from the US quite dramatically.
OK, in the midst of all this, on a small store front about a 10-minute walk from where we live, is the Evangelical Protestant Church. You go through a gate, and across a little courtyard, you find the tiny church building, between the actual row-buildings of the street. Every week, about 70 people worship together, of which about 1/3 are language students and their families. We have all been involved in different ways. I have often played on their worship team, and even found myself leading French singing a few times. Many of us have helped out in the sunday schools, and John and Jason found themselves praying in French and giving communion one (slightly awkward) Sunday.
From what I gather, this is an impressively large evangelical church community for a French town of our size. And they have welcomed us. Despite their small size, they are eager to reach out to their community around them. The Music Fest which Heather just mentioned had a slot where a group from the church boldly played worship songs, after strict instructions from city hall not to do anything approaching evangelism. And they extend their mission to us, eager to serve as part of our training to go out into the rest of the Francophone world.
No one in this church is there because "that's just what you do." They have all made a purposeful choice to go seriously against the grain of their society, and then to turn around and love and reach out to the same society that thinks they are a bit nuts from trusting in Jesus.
They are small in number. They are often overlooked, and yet they are faithful. There is much to learn from them, and we are thankful to have been able to join with them this past year.