Tag Archives: France

Praying in tongues

I’m at the meeting of the European Cabinets of the Methodist Church in Braunfels, Germany, where the leaders of Methodist communities from all over Europe have travelled to talk particularly about evangelism and Fresh Expressions.

My role is as one of three people from the Methodist Church in the UK who have at one time led Fresh Expressions – new ways of being Church – and may have something to say to the leaders here.

Perhaps there’ll be more to say about the presentations we make and what I say on Tubestation – the church on the north Cornwall coast which resonates so well with surf culture.

But what struck me tonight was the amazing worship – or at least the amazing experience of being in the opening worship.

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, one of the four bishops in Europe and our host, is holding together a community of maybe 70 people in this extended Cabinets meeting: from Germany, France, Sweden, Norway, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland and other countries … as well as interlopers like me.

For the first evening’s worship, it meant running the worship in two languages – German and English – and therefore choosing hymns which could be sung in both. It meant providing a transcript in English of the German-language sermon, as well as a headset translation for those who only spoke Russian.

But for the time of open prayer the invitation was to use our own language and for some time we shared as people poured out their prayers. We couldn’t understand most of them and yet, in an extraordinary, we understood exactly what was going on.

The community of faith was reaching to God, holding each other up before their Father and longing for the best. It was a remarkable moment – and a great note on which to begin five days together.

Advertisements

Seeing isn’t always believing

It’s probably a good lesson in life not to believe everything people tell you – and we discovered that with a disappointing trip to Limoges.
The second stage of our round-France marathon has brought us to the Perigord region of the Dordogne, an area we love and have enjoyed holidays in before.
Because most of the country shuts down from Saturday night until 2pm on Monday we consulted our guidebook for somewhere we hadn’t seen that promised to be worthwhile.
Limoges is renowned for its porcelain and was described as a beautiful old town with many charms, so off we headed.
We arrived at lunchtime – we always do! – but the indoor market said it was open until 2pm. We walked in around 1pm and everything was shut except for one fruit stall which was in the process of closing and the stallholder looked very grumpy so we beat a hasty retreat.
There were a few examples of Limoges’ history – a half-timbered street just off the market square and an impressive mural painted on the sides of two high-rise building on the opposite side (pictured).
We kept walking and saw the magnificent Hotel de Ville (pictured top) where clearly a number of people gather for their lunch break for conversation and to sit in the sun.
Our guidebook had told us to prepare for a great day in Limoges – being amazed. Actually most of the time we were walking past shut down businesses; not just closed for the morning but places that had stopped trading; sometimes whole streets with only one or two active shops in them.
As we walked around I was reminded of a passage in Matthew’s gospel in the Bible where Jesus is ripping into the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders who were always giving everyone else advice on how to live.
At one point Jesus tells the Pharisees they are like “dead men’s graves” – all painted on the outside but full of dead mens’ bones inside. Limoges as a whole wasn’t that bad but some of the shops were. On the outside they still had the signs up for the business that once operated there – even some of the bargain posters stuck on the door.
But inside there was no life at all. Just an empty space.
In fact, when we got back to the camp site one of the other people here said that even the best displays of Limoge porcelain isn’t in Limoges … you have to leave the town behind to find it.
We found it hard to believe that the guidebook could have got it so wrong about Limoges – it promised such a lot and delivered a boring place that was really not worth the journey.
Jesus used to fall out with the disciples a lot because he found it hard to believe that people who had so much head knowledge of God could be so far off-track with their lives.
I wonder what happens when people encounter us?

Of history and wine

Our major trip while we were at Le Pas Opton was an all-day outing centred on wine and history … and a great deal of eating!
We began in the town of Clisson which, on first sight, looked like a backwater. It turned out however to have quite a history, having been named after Olivier IV de Clisson who, at one point, was the second most powerful man in all France.
(The town is also twinned with Cowbridge, just outside Cardiff. That’s absolutely nothing to do with our visit but allows me to get a mention of Wales in!!)

Apart from places to get coffee, and apparently lots of places to buy women’s shoes, there was nothing much to do except visitthe chateau so we did and at 2€20 each it was pretty good value.
The views fro the battlements were excellent, especially of the Eglise Notre Dame on the other side of the river. The town is at the confluence of the Sèvre Nantaise and the Moine so was a strategic point in the Vendeen wars in the 1790s.
From Clisson it was on to Domaine Des Croix, the family vineyard run by Josiane and Joseph Batard not far from Clisson.
Any thoughts of this being a wander along a few vines were dispelled the moment the minibus pulled into the farmyard. The welcome drink was a glass of sparkling muscadet to get us ready for a feast!
We looked at the vines and were given full details on how the crop developed – this is basically a two-person operation with a bit of extra help. Joseph and his employee deal with seven acres and 17,000 vines to produce their different types of muscadet.
It was fascinating to see the care and attention to detail needed to produce high-quality white wine.
Then we sat down to the kind of lunch that farm workers would have. The food kept coming: bread, pate (pork and duck), rillette, saucissions, ham, cheese – and samples of all the other wines available from Domaine Des Croix.
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, out came cake – two types – and jam, followed by coffee and tea.
All the time, as Josiane told us about their life at the vineyard, there was a sense of her total commitment to what has to be done to preserve this way of French life. You could tell it was so important to her.
Martine, our delightful Spring Harvest minibus driver, told us that the vineyard had been chosen particularly because its name – with reference to Des Croix, the crosses, in it – referred to a period of French history when nuns in the area had been persecuted for their faith.

The ‘how much more’ God

We are beginning almost a month in France as I come towards the end of a Sabbatical –  a gift from the Methodist Church.

It’s a chance to do a number of things and here all the cliches could come out: recharge the batteries; rest from the fight; find yourself; do something different. In a way they are all true and all wrong.

A sabbatical can be a glorious waste of time – and that may be just what you should do. I know of at least one friend who decided that he would spend the time reintroducing himself to his family because he spent so long away from them working that he believed, rightly, that he owed them the best gift: time.

For me, two months into the three, I’m beginning to hear something clear from God. Whether it will translate into anything usable for work I don’t know but I do know that I can sense him speaking in the place where we are now.

We’ve begun our time in France at Spring Harvest’s holiday Park Le Pas Opton. It’s our fourth visit and this time we’ve brought our little caravan to the Vendee at the beginning of a trip around six different caravan sites from the West coast to St Tropez, via St Etienne.

This morning, Christophe the site manager, was speaking at the morning worship and talked about logic, or rather the illogicality of God choosing to work with people like us to share his love in the world. He quoted Jesus (always a good idea, I find!) who, in Matthew’s Gospel, encourages people not to worry:

Matthew 7:

7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. 9“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Christophe went on to talk about the logic of asking and receiving, seeking and finding, knocking and having something open but what struck me was the ‘how much more’ God. In this conversation where we can expect the obvious to happen – so doors open when you knock – comes a Father who surpasses the ordinary and works on the ‘how much more’ level.

I’m excited to explore more of this as the final sabbatical goes on. What does it mean to follow a ‘how much more’ God. How does it change expectations? What does it mean for ministry, for church, for the way church works?