A few weeks back I was stuck, not knowing what to write about, and Mags suggested that she’d like to hear more about Christ Church, the Episcopal church I attend in Clermont Ferrand. I don’t know much about its history, so I did a bit of digging, and found some information, including a text from someone writing about the beginnings of the church…
So, here is this small very “Anglican” chapel in the centre (well, on the outskirts) of a suburb of Clermont…How did it get here?
It’s actually in Royat, which used to be a seperate Spa town, until Clermont grew and swallowed it up. Royat was popular with Brits – possibly on the Grand Tour (although as it’s not very well known, it may have been on the not-so-grand-tour) but possibly just for those who wanted to “take the waters”. There are several spa towns in the surrounding areas – Volvic, Vichy, St Galmier… So in 1886, an Anglican chapel was built here
This plaque inthe church commemorates Amie Brandt who was obviously very involved in the founding of the chapel. As far as I can find, her husband, Dr GH Brandt was carrying out research of some kind on the waters at Royat-Les-Bains (to give it its full title)
The chapel was handed over to the Eglise Reformée (Protestant church) of France, and specifically into the care of the Eglise Reformée of Clermont Ferrand, but they had built their new city centre church in the 60s, to replace an older building, and weren’t too interested in using this small chapel
The inside of the Eglise Reformée Clermont Ferrand
Here we are, with a small unloved chapel needing an occupant…and in elsewhere in Clermont Ferrand, a seed was starting to germinate…
Using the words of a member of Christ Church, the story unfolds:
In the mid-1990’s, a small group of Michelin employees expatriated from the U.S. began to talk about start an English speaking worship service. They found that there were several American and British families living in the Auvergne looking for a church to call their own. The Convocation of American Churches in Europe in Paris was contacted for advice and help in starting a new church in France. With the support of the Episcopal Church, the first service was held in front of the fireplace at the home of Blake and Nadine Redding on May 29, 1996. The Bishop in charge, the Rt. Rev. Jeffery Rowthorn led five families in that first worship service.
Periodically, services were held in the home for several months, but it soon became apparent that the group did not want to limit the number of worshipers, so a search began for a larger worship space. The leaders of the small congregation knocked on the doors of the Eglise Reformée in Clermont Ferrand to ask their advice. The Eglise Reformée had a chapel in the spa town of Royat – a village five kilometers from the center of Clermont Ferrand. They only occupied the chapel in the summer, so they were willing to let the new congregation use the chapel.
So the fledgling group had a five families and a place to worship – now to secure the services of a priest. It was obvious Bishop Rowthorn could not lead services on a regular basis, so the Reverend Joe Britton agreed to come to Clermont Ferrand for a short period of time. Father Joe led services two times per month. He would get on a train in Paris in the morning, have lunch with some of the congregants in the afternoon, lead services at 5:00 PM, and take the four hour train back to Paris at 7:00 PM Sunday evening. Father Joe remained faithful to this “short-term” arrangement from 1996 until December 2002.
Soon after the chapel in Royat was located as a home for the congregation, news began to spread about the availability of English speaking worship services. Although started by Episcopalians and adding a British family of Anglican tradition, the expatriate community in Clermont Ferrand comes from a variety of Christian denominations. Everyone arrives with their idea of how worship should be held; what it means to worship, how we pray, and how we relate. In spite of these differences, here in the Auvergne, these individual perspectives are laid aside in favor of a communal worship experience.
The church expanded and contracted depending on the economic constraints and needs of the employer of the majority of the congregation. The mission was surviving with the help of the convocation.
Then, after nearly six years, Father Joe accepted a position in U.S. and was no longer able to hold services in Clermont Ferrand. So the Bishop’s Committee at the church was asked to consider options about how to proceed. Could the small mission, whose viability to that time had relied on a particular population, hire and maintain a full-time pastor? After much prayer, a plan was laid to hire an interim priest. In January 2003, after a great deal of preparation, we welcomed our first resident pastor, the Reverend Karl E. Bell. Father Karl’s appointment was as an interim priest – meaning he would be leaving in the near future. This concept wasn’t heavily factored in to the equation of hiring a priest. More mundane issues such as finding an apartment, paying utilities, furnishing an apartment, and setting up bank accounts took priority. All of those tasks that individuals do for themselves, in a non-English speaking environment, now needed to be done for someone else. With Father Karl available, the church began holding services every week rather than twice per month. Since most of the congregants are expatriates, a lot of families take the opportunity to travel in Europe on weekends during their short stay. So, many in the congregation believed that weekly services would reduce the number of people in the pews. Oddly, the opposite was true, and the congregation began to grow.
Due to Rev. Bell’s retirement, Christ Church began a search for its second resident minister in spring 2004. Father Tony Clavier and his wife Pat moved to Clermont Ferrand to take services as an interim priest. Now the small but growing congregation had a priest and a pastor’s wife. The chapel is in the hills outside of Clermont, is a summer chapel, and the winters are cold. Other than an unreliable (and later proven dangerous!) gas heater, there was no heat. From December until late March, congregants dressed warmly and we could see our breathe during most services. So, thanks to a grant from a women’s outreach club at the Cathedral in Paris, we installed infrared lamp heaters. Also during this time the Bishop’s Committee decided to change services from 5:00 PM to 10:30 AM. Again, many in the congregation believed that weekly services would reduce the number of people in the pews. And again, the opposite was true, and the church continued to grow.
After a long and far-reaching search, the Bishop’s Committee sought the help of the Holy Spirit. After much prayer, the committee discerned that Father Luk DeVolder was called to shepherd our church. Father Luk and his wife Tiffany accepted the challenge, in July 2005, the Reverend Dr. Luk De Volder took to the pulpit. And the church continued to grow.
Through a series of true “Leaps of Faith” the congregation has grown and thrived. It is funny what a bit of success can do for a group. People who in their “home towns” that would not think of attending the same church, worship and fellowship together. Willingly. Happily, Faithfully. I often hear from former members who have returned to their lives in the states. Overwhelmingly, one of the main things they miss is the fellowship of the church.
The church has grown from being a mission relying on the Convocation for support, to a mission that supports itself, and contributes to the Convocation. We have members that participate in every area of the Convocation; on the Council of Advice, the Finance Committee, and participation in Youth Events.
Some of our ministries include Sunday school, prayer chain, women’s bible study, men’s bible study, couple’s bible study, youth group, outreach to college students, lots of music, and lots of fellowship. Starting with five faithful families, the support of the Convocation, the vision of Bishop Jeffrey, the continuing support of Bishop Pierre, the commitment of Father Joe, the numerous members of Bishop’s Committees, hundreds of congregants come and gone, until today, our church has been blessed.
After Father Luk left, a new Rector, Rob Warren and his wife Caireen came from Scotland. He led the church for 6 years, with Caireen doing tremendous work with our young people.
Caireen leading Lunch Bunch – our “Sunday School”, held on Friday lunchtime.
Their last Sunday with us, before setting off for a new adventure in Rome, was a bitter sweet occasion….but as the note says: regular services continue, even though Rob and Caireen have left us.
And now we are in a period of interregnum – deciding where we are going next. As the congregation has grown smaller, as Michelin’s policy on ex-pats has changed, we find ourselves unable to support a full time Senior Rector, so we are looking at different possibilities. We have had tremendous support from the Convocation of the Episcopal Church in Europe, and look forward to our first visit from Bishop Mark Edington, the newly elected Bishop, at the end of June. He has experienced bi-vocational ministry in action, and we hope that he will be able to give us advice and encouragement.
Archdeacon Walter Baer, Deputy to the Bishop, preaching a couple of weeks back. Thanks Walter for visiting us and encouraging the congregation with the Word of God!
For the moment, we have Eucharistic services, using reserved sacrament, which I lead, plus morning prayer led by other talented members of the congregation. We have some visiting priests too, but generally, I think we are thriving under this temporary regime. I rather like it, as I’m getting plenty of opportunity to preach!!
Here is the congregation last Sunday, at Pentecost. I’m there, slap bang in the middle, wearing my Reader’s robes, as I’d just led the church in Communion (using reserved sacrament) It is missing some key members, who are on holiday, or visiting family.
We are particularly proud of one member of the congregation, who is away at boarding school in the UK. From our FB page: After a long essay style application and a thorough discernment process, Caitlin Mahoney, one of our youth from Christ Church has been invited to serve on the Planning Team for the triennial Episcopal Youth Event (EYE 2020). The event will be held in Washington D.C in partnership with the Washington National Cathedral, Howard University and the Diocese of Washington. She will be required to attend 3 planning weekends in the USA and EYE 2020 – all in her A level year! She will be representing not only Christ Church but also the Convocation at this large event with 1400 youth. Caitlin says, ” I am thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of this Youth Planning Team for this wonderful event, where so many young, diverse young Christians come together to strengthen their faith and worship the Lord” Well done Caitlin.
So, there you are, Mags, a potted history of Christ Church, Clermont Ferrand. If my readers are so minded, some prayer for the future of our small but lively congregation would be gratefully received.
From one end, and the other!