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This year, I was pleased to have been able to attend two Sunday services at the Reformed Church in Cannes, 7 rue Notre-Dame.

The name in French is no longer ‘Reformed’ because, those churches unified some time ago with the Lutheran churches in France to create L’Eglise Protestante Unie.

That said, L’Eglise Protestante Unie in Cannes offers a Reformed service rather than a Lutheran one.

2017

Although I went there in 2017, I did not document it. I previously posted on the church in 2015, in the final weeks of Pastor Paolo Morlacchetti’s tenure there. He went to Nice to serve at l’Eglise St Esprit that summer.

I appreciated my visit in 2017. At that time, they had a newish pastor, the Revd Philippe Fromont, who is still there today, I am happy to say. His sermons are very good.

Their organist that year was excellent. I could have listened to him play for hours.

2019

I attended Exaudi and Pentecost Sunday services, both of which were very good.

Pastor Fromont has cut back on the liturgy somewhat. We had only one reading each Sunday and no Psalm. By contrast, in 2015, there were two readings and a Psalm.

Both were Communion services.

When entering the church proper, congregants take a hymnal, a Bible and the liturgical booklet, all of which are neatly stacked in the back pew. The liturgical booklet is colour coded for the Church year.

Exaudi Sunday

Exaudi Sunday is the one between Ascension Day and Pentecost.

The reading was from Acts 1:

And while staying[a] with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

The Ascension

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Pastor Fromont’s sermon followed the traditional, bittersweet Exaudi Sunday themes: the feeling of sadness that the disciples had following our Lord’s Ascension and the anticipation of a new beginning.

He said that they had no idea what would happen when the Holy Spirit came and asked how often we feel that when an abrupt change comes into our own lives: a severe loss, followed by a new beginning. While the new beginning is not what we had expected, it is often better than we had feared. His sermon was far superior to my summary, by the way. It was actually comforting and inspiring.

After the service, on the way out, he wished me a pleasant stay in Cannes.

Pentecost Sunday and Confirmation

This service was exceptional, as it included a Confirmation service.

Fromont said that it was the first he had performed thus far during his three years in Cannes. He confirmed two boys, Alexei and Dmitri, both of whom are probably 16 years old. If I remember rightly, both have French fathers and Russian mothers.

I spotted Dmitri straightaway as soon as I entered the nave. He was dressed in a suit, white shirt and bow tie. He was talking with family and friends, bussing them, shaking hands and so on. His comportment was very advanced for his age. He was intriguing to watch, because he was very much at ease with young and old alike.

The reading

The reading was from Acts 2:

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested[a] on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Fromont’s sermon expanded on the Exaudi Sunday one, which was a good segue, especially to get us into the mindset of the disciples.

He continued to explore the idea of an end and a beginning. One stage of the disciples’ lives had ended and another began at that first Pentecost. They entered into a powerful new phase not only of their lives but that of the Church. Again, my summary doesn’t do it justice, but I could have readily listened to more.

The sermon ‘joke’

Fromont then turned his attention to the two confirmands.

They, too, he said, were ending one phase of their lives and entering into a new one through Confirmation.

He told an all too real ‘joke’. (By way of explanation, many families stop going to church once their children are confirmed.) A Catholic priest had problems with pigeons in his church’s belfry. He’d tried everything, but they would not leave. So, he decided to consult the other clergy in his small town. He enquired of the rabbi, who offered his commiserations but had no solution. He then asked the Protestant pastor for his advice. The pastor said, ‘Baptise them, confirm them and you’ll never see them again’.

Fromont said he hoped that would not be the case with the two boys he was about to confirm. Each is going to study abroad during the next school year. He said, ‘We won’t be seeing you for a while, but we hope that you will not forget your church family. We look forward to seeing you again upon your return.’

Confirmation, he said, was a beginning of a new life with the Triune God, not the end of attending church. (How true.) He said he hoped that they would continue to grow spiritually and manifest their faith to others, including in the countries where they were going to study.

I pray that they do, too.

Confirmation

I was encouraged when Fromont invited both sets of parents and both boys’ godfathers to speak individually to the congregation. Both sets of parents said that their sons had begged them for Confirmation classes. Fromont catechised the boys in meetings and discussions over a period of months.

Dmitri’s father gave a sermon, giving his son — and us — his favourite Bible verses ‘to live by’. The man, who is an instructor at the Conservatory in Cannes, is a powerful speaker. I can see where his son gets his self confidence.

I should say that both boys spoke before their parents and godfathers did. Both thanked their pastor for the catechism instruction and thanked their parents for allowing them to be confirmed. Dmitri is incredibly comfortable speaking in public. He spoke at length, only glancing at his tablet now and then. He will go far in life, I’m sure.

After the speeches, Fromont prayed over both boys and blessed them. There was no anointing with chrism (blessed oil), but I did not expect that.

Music

There was no organ music that day. Dmitri’s father played guitar, accompanying another Conservatory instructor who played the piano. The two were so good that I felt we were listening to recorded music.

Students from the Conservatory also made their contributions, as Dmitri’s friends. The first group were three little boys who played ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ on violins. The lady playing the piano conducted them. She also conducted one of the violinists and played a sombre duet with him.

A teenage boy played a Glenn Miller number on his saxophone. He was very good, too.

So, although these students’ contributions were not religious, they were, in a sense, offerings to God of the talents He had given them.

Communion

There is a certain etiquette to receiving Communion there, which is why I prefer the services without the Sacrament.

Everyone gathers around the altar. The bread is cubed brioche. Some people offer a cube to the person next to them. I did that years ago and the woman to whom I presented it gave me the side eye, so I never did it again. This year, I took mine and passed the plate to the man next to me. He side-eyed me, probably because I didn’t put the bread in his hand. I don’t know.

The cup is then passed in two forms: the chalice and little plastic cups. Whether one drinks from the chalice or the plastic cup, it’s grape juice, not wine.

Fromont gave us his views on Communion on one of those Sundays in his sermon. He adopts the Zwinglian approach, that both the bread and the ‘wine’ are symbolic of the Last Supper. He does not believe in a sense of Real Presence. However, he did say the Sacrament was a means of grace, which was why we needed to partake of it.

On Pentecost Sunday, the confirmands came by with the bread and the wine, which was really nice to see. This was their first Communion, too.

———————————————————————————-

I hope to report on church again when I next visit Cannes, God willing.

In the early 21st the worldwide migration situation has produced Church-related anomalies in Europe, including the UK.

One of these has been the marriage of convenience, as a Workpermit.com post from 2006 describes. In 2005, a set of rules was introduced in the UK to put an end to this practice designed:

to get around immigration controls and require immigrants to obtain a special certificate of approval, or COA before they can wed in the UK.

However, Mr Justice Silber overturned these laws in 2006 because they violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Consequently:

The overturning of the marriage laws due to unfair discrimination against immigrants on religious grounds leaves the door open for hundreds of people from overseas getting married in the UK.

The test case involved in overturning by Mr Justice Silber, involved a foreign national from Algeria and an EEA national who was legally living in the UK. Once Mahmaud Baiai and Izabella Trzanska from Poland were refused permission to marry, they launched the challenge.

Mr Justice Silber said the case raised issues under Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to marry and found a family.

“The rules were incompatible because they discriminated against immigrants rights subject to immigration control on grounds of religion and nationality,” he declared.

Oddly, the rules overturned did not apply to Church of England members:

even if they are illegally in the UK.

This meant that the Anglican Church could conduct marriages of convenience. By 2008, as The Telegraph reported (emphases mine):

the number of bogus weddings performed by Anglican priests has risen by as much as 400 per cent in some dioceses over the last four years.

Foreign nationals have turned to the Church because it is exempt from rules that require all foreign nationals from outside the European Union to obtain a Home Office certificate of approval to marry in a register office.

That year, Church of England bishops warned their clergy to be vigilant when evaluating immigrants wishing to marry in an Anglican ceremony:

the Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, urged priests to be wary of migrants looking to get married who have obtained a common licence – a preliminary for church weddings involving foreign nationls.

“The new regime does not apply to marriages by banns, common licence or special licence, which probably explains the substantial increase in demand for bishops’ common licenses,” he writes.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is significant abuse of the availability of Church of England marriage in order to try to gain some immigration advantage.

The Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, has also written to churches in his diocese with guidance on how to tighten measures.

The diocese of Southwark, which covers Greater London south of the Thames, has seen the number of applications for common licences rise from 90 in 2004 to 493 last year.

In 2013 the Coalition government (Conservative/Liberal Democrat) produced new rules to end marriages of convenience. From page 4 of the PDF:

Notices of marriage following civil preliminaries or civil partnership in England and Wales involving a non-EEA national who could benefit from it in immigration terms will be referred to the Home Office for a decision as to whether to investigate whether the marriage or civil partnership is a sham. Non-EEA nationals will only be able to marry in the Church of England or the Church in Wales following civil preliminaries, except in limited circumstances.

Perhaps something similar should be done in the case of conversions by refugees to Christianity.

On June 5, The Guardian reported that the Catholic bishops in Austria are suspicious of the number of sudden converts to Christianity among refugees from war-torn countries. The paper reported in 2014 that the same phenomenon is going on in the Lutheran Church in Germany.

Clergy with a rosy view of the world will say that this is a tremendous opportunity to revive the Church in Europe.

The Austrian bishops view the situation differently. In 2015:

the Austrian bishops’ conference published new guidelines for priests, warning that some refugees may seek baptism in the hope of improving their chances of obtaining asylum.

Admitting persons for baptism who are during the official procedure classified as ‘not credible’ leads to a loss in the church’s credibility across the whole of Austria,” the new guidelines say.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Vienna explained:

There has to be a noticeable interest in the faith that extends beyond merely the wish to obtain a piece of paper.

Austrian priests now informally evaluate potential refugee converts during their one-year ‘preparation period’. The Archdiocese of Vienna has recorded that 5% to 10% of potential converts drop out of the process prior to baptism.

In England, however, Anglican clergy are eager to not only ask no questions but to combine the conversion process with helping to ease the refugee application process.

The Guardian interviewed the Revd Mohammad Eghtedarian, an Iranian refugee and convert who was later ordained. He is a curate at Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. Eghtedarian says that refugee status and religious affiliation are intertwined.

Liverpool Cathedral has a process which involves registering refugee attendance, which helps their asylum applications. A candidate for Baptism must attend the five preparatory classes. A baptised refugee seeking Confirmation must attend a dozen courses.

Hmm. It sounds very minimal.

The Guardian asked Eghtedarian about the sincerity of those candidates. Even he acknowledged that ‘plenty of people’ were converting for convenience!

In large part, only a cursory examination exists. The Cathedral will also provide a ‘letter of attendance’ to immigration authorities, if requested.

The article said that the Church of England does not record conversions, regardless of background, because it could be a ‘sensitive’ issue.

It seems the Austrian Catholic bishops have approached the conversions of convenience issue more sensibly than the German Lutherans, who resent that immigration court judges ask refugees to discuss their newly-found beliefs in detail in order to assess their sincerity.

It is the responsibility of clergy to do a thorough examination of heart and mind during the conversion process rather than let false converts through the doors for Baptism and Confirmation.

Church of England clergy should pray for divine guidance on the matter rather than deceive fellow Christians, other citizens of our country and our government.

Admittedly, some of these converts are sincere. However, if ‘plenty of people’ are not, then the whole thing is a sham.

If marriages of convenience rightly rang Anglican bishops’ alarm bells, then conversions of convenience should, too.

Confirmation catholique-nanterreRecently I read remarks made about Confirmation class:

Confirmation should be fun.

Confirmation is too religious.

So, Confirmation — a sacrament whereby a youngster receives the gift of the Holy Spirit and renews his baptismal vows in order to be able to be a witness for Christ — is supposed to be fun and secular.  Wow.

If you happened to read one of my earlier pieces on transubstantiation, you’ll recall that I had Lutheran neighbours at one point when I was growing up.  One of the nice things about being a young Catholic with Protestant neighbours is that they will often invite you to one of their church services.  My friend was taking Confirmation class at the time, so as a bonus, I was allowed to sit in with her.  I imagine that this all had to be pre-arranged.  No one seemed surprised to see me on the day.  The kids were nice, but they were geared up towards that Sunday’s Confirmation lesson.

Our Savior Lutheran Church still exists and has a website.  The pastors in question had German surnames both beginning with ‘K’.  One Pastor K founded the church after the Second World War, and the other, younger K was serving as Pastor when I attended in the 1970s.  At that time Our Savior was part of the Lutheran Church in America and now is part of the ELCA.  My friend and her family were really conservative, so, although they have since moved away, I wonder if they are now going to Missouri Synod (LCMS) churches.  The ELCA would seem progressive to them on a number of levels.  But I digress. 

The recently retired Pastor K took the Confirmation class.  We were in an annex of the church in a room that smelled of wood and prayer books.  It’s the kind of pleasant and comforting scent one finds in Protestant churches.   

Anyway, every student sat in one of those school-type chairs with the small slab of wood on which to prop a book and take notes.  It was quiet, in fact, completely silent. Every child had his own Bible, a catechism and a notebook.  No one looked at each other.  Their books were closed.  The girls wore modest dresses or skirts and sweaters.  The boys had dress shirts and ties. 

Pastor K, the founder, breezed in and scrutinised everyone.  Mercifully, I received the briefest of introductions.  Everyone looked straight ahead or at him. He was approaching his sunset years, grey and jowly.  He wore a dark suit and clerical collar. 

Pastor K started on that week’s Confirmation lesson straightaway.  I vaguely recall that he said something about not having much time and that it was incumbent on everyone to make the best use of the time they had.  Otherwise, it wouldn’t be fair to others.

As far as specifics go, I’ve since forgotten.  The time went by quite quickly.  What I do remember was that the kids answered every question he asked, whether it was about the catechism or the Bible. I’ve never seen such good knowledge of Scripture among young people.  There was one boy who faltered in one of his responses, however.  Pastor K looked at him.  He narrowed one eye.

‘Didn’t you study this lesson?  Didn’t you take the time to prepare?’

The boy looked at his open Bible.  ‘Um, noooo.’

Pastor K straightened up.  ‘”No” what?’

‘No, Pastor K, I did not fully prepare for this lesson.’

‘Well, see that you do so for next week.’  I can just imagine that Pastor K sought his parents out after the morning Communion service to have a quiet word.

Today, it’s probably completely different.  I have read numerous times where pastors have said, ‘Of course, we have the standard Church materials, but we use our own lessons quite a lot.’  So, in these churches, any child who wants a more in-depth or properly done study of his denomination’s catechism has to spend more of his own time reinforcing what he’s learned.  The Sunday School Confirmation class will add little to what he knows and will waste his time.  The pastors would disagree, of course, but you can get to the social justice, LGBT conversations and diversity lessons after Confirmation.  Because it’s after Confirmation that our work as soldiers of Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, begins.

The Bible and the catechism build our foundation on which to carry out the Lord’s work.  Without them we have no spiritual, theological or moral guidance.  Confirmation class is probably the last time many of us attend Sunday School.  Anyone who says this is meant to be fun or less religious needs a rethink. 

I notice that these are also the same pastors who wonder why their attendance levels are falling.  If Pastor K could speak from beyond the grave, I’m sure he’d have an answer for them.

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