France is renowned for its churches and cathedrals, and I admit that as a Christian and armchair historian, I’m fascinated by them. On a recent vacation to Paris, two weeks after the fire at Notre Dame, my family got to visit a few of the centuries-old Gothic wonders, witnessing their awesome beauty firsthand. Their ability to move and inspire with vaulted glass and stone is undeniable. But as great as that was, the real highlight of our trip was the Sabbath we spent in worship and fellowship with a small congregation of Christian believers at 120 Boulevard Voltaire.
It was only a short subway ride from our apartment on the Seine to Voltaire, but the rainy morning and our unfamiliarity with the area made finding the church difficult. Exiting the “tube” at a roundabout where six streets converged, my wife, Stephanie, and kids, Tabitha and Isaac, leaned into the wind, umbrellas in hand, and walked up the wrong street. We explored all six before finding our way — a half hour late — to the big double doors at 120, where Brother Jean Marc was waiting and waving for us.
With warm embraces and a kiss on each cheek, we were ushered across a courtyard and into the building where worship was already underway. Greeted and seated by Deacon Simion, we made ourselves comfortable. With the service held in French, Jean Marc’s sister, Fabienne, was kind enough to translate for us. I will not soon forget her irrepressible smile as she communicated the proceedings. The music was led by Sister Roselyne, with two brothers accompanying on guitars. Though we did not recognize the songs, I realized midway through one lovely hymn that where our Lord Jesus is praised, language is no barrier at all. We were at home.
The service proceeded with someone from each family standing to read a scripture or request a song. We were invited to participate. I read my daughter’s favorite text, one much on my mind: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21. Verse 17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Here was a “new creation” moment. Although strangers to us, in Christ, and in this place, we were family.
A break before the preaching service allowed us to introduce ourselves. Most of the congregation spoke English fairly well. Our “Bonjour, mon frere” got us by. Each one greeted us with a kiss on each cheek. Back home, we hug or shake hands at church. I like the French way!
Before the sermon, Pastor Phedre gave me the opportunity to share greetings from the Church of God in North America and to talk about the Bible Advocate. I passed out some copies and was asked when the French version would be available.
Pastor Potorel preached from Malachi 3 and Proverbs 3 on fearing and honoring the Lord in all things, especially our resources. The Sabbath message was consistent with the tone of the whole service: grateful and reverent.
We chanced to visit the day they held their Lord’s Supper. Taking communion with these sweet brothers and sisters was a special experience and sealed our fellowship. Next came lunch. I can’t call it potluck; this is Paris, after all. We were all seated at a set table, and Deacon Simion and his brother Christian served. Six courses! First a salad. Next, quiche. This was followed by curried chicken with beans and rice. The fourth course was cheese. Fruit was fifth. By the time dessert was served, I was too stuffed to eat it. They wrapped our cake and tart, and we took them back with us.
Table time like this anticipates the kingdom of God better than anything else we do as fellow disciples of Christ. They wanted to know all about our church and life in in the US, and we wanted to know all about life in France. Bible, politics, food, and culture: We talked about it all. I remember the laughter most of all. We laughed and laughed as we told stories and got to know each other. The joy and hospitality were tremendous.
We said our goodbyes and made our way up Boulevard Voltaire to the subway. The street name made me smile. The French philosopher Voltaire was a famous critic of Christianity. He reviled the Bible, in particular, and predicted that within a hundred years it would be forgotten. Our Sabbath in Paris is evidence to the contrary. The people of the Book are alive and well in Paris. There at “120” is a living cathedral — not of glass and stone but of grace and truth that is in Jesus Christ.
If you are vacationing in Paris, be sure to visit Communauté Chrétienne Foi Et Oeuvres, CCFO