One of the problems traveling outside of the Anglo-sphere is finding a church where the service is in English. Well, I guess it depends where you happen to find yourself, and there are certainly going to be some churches in the bigger cities that have services in English, the catch is not only being able to find them but also being able to get to them. This was the problem when we were facing in Cologne, because while there was an English speaking church there, it happened to be out in the suburbs, and rather inaccessible by public transport (which where I am concerned involves either trains or trams). Fortunately this wasn’t going to be a problem in Paris.
Mind you, any old church isn’t going to work because there are a lot of suspicious, and quite dangerous, ones out there. However, it was fortunate that the one we chose wasn’t one of those churches. Sure, it wasn’t really the easiest to get to, but at least it was in the city centre, and not too far from the Jardins du Luxembourg either, which meant that afterwards we could go for a wander around there as well. However, the church itself is on the second floor of a rather non-descript building (though there is a sign out the front that suggests that there is a church there, just not the one that I was looking for, which meant I had to wander up and down the street a bit, before going in and asking one of the welcomers, in French, whether this was the correct church).
It appears that they may actually be sharing the premises with another church, which is probably not all that surprising considering that we are dealing with a church for ex-pats here – or are we? This is the curious question because I feel that maybe an English speaking church in a non-English speaking country should be looking further afield than simply catering to English visitors and residents. Well, I suspect that this is the case with this church, particularly since the service is in English, French, and Mandarin. Actually the Mandarin aspect is quite interesting as we are seeing similar things across the board, especially here in Australia – as the Chinese because wealthier, and travel further afield to study, there is suddenly a need for churches to reach out to them.
Yet it is clear that Trinity International isn’t cutting itself off from the culture at large, which is one of the things that the French really don’t like – there is this attitude that when English speakers come to France they expect everybody to speak, and understand, English, and I feel that the French should be rightly annoyed as well. Yet, there is this attutitude among us English speakers to simply hang around other English speakers and simply not connect with the local culture. In the way we start treating the world like some exotic zoo, where we pass through the cultures, but we don’t immerse ourselves inside them and begin to connect with the people. In a way there is an attitude of ‘this is an English church – no French allowed’.
Okay, Trinity International is clearly an English speaking church, but they are not going to turn anybody away simply because they do not understand the English language – this is not what Christianity is about. So, instead of forcing them to speak English, and thus feel alienated, they work to meet them where they are at – which is why the service sheet, and the welcoming cards, are in both English and French. In a way they are living up to the name of the church and are looking at being a truly international church, not in the sense that they are in multiple countries, or serve ex-pats, but rather reach out to people of all nations and languages.
One of the problems can be that when you visit a church you will suddenly discover that they are in the middle of a sermon series. Well, okay, it isn’t like watching a television series, or a movie, where if you start halfway through you are completely lost – one of the things about writing a good sermon is to make it self contained. However, the day we came to Trinity International they were just starting one, and a rather long one at that, so much of the sermon was basically what they were going to talk about rather than talking about anything juicy. Well, not quite because even a brief outline can be helpful in a way, but then again one can always listen to sermons on line – one goes to a church for the community (though it seems that not all churches post their sermons online, though that might have something to do with audio files taking up quite a lot of space).
This is something that stood out, because there were people from all over the place, including a French guy that couldn’t speak a word of English. That was awkward because even though I can speak French – sort of – I’m not that good that I can have a conversation with somebody that can’t speak English. Really, my French only extends to ordering food and showing off (and I tend to show off more than I order food). However, there was another person I met, who was a techno DJ. That was quite interesting because, at least where I’m concerned, Christian techno DJs are few and far between. Then again, Christians have always been behind the proverbial eightball when it comes to popular culture (though let us not go down the road of the hipster beards and the huge tattoos).
The other thing that really caught my attention was the music. Well, it was contemporary, but I’ve been to quite a few churches where the music is contemporary, so that isn’t necessarily anything new (and at times it certainly beats the pipe organ, though some churches do go to the extreme of having the services akin to a rock concert). However what was new was that some of the songs were in French – not all of them, but maybe a verse or two. In a way I’m not surprised because we where in Paris, and a part of the purpose behind this church is to connect with the people of the city. Yet singing in French does add a much greater dimension to the service, and makes you realise that the Christian Church is truly an international phenomena which reaches across nations and languages.