This past Tuesday was the last full day in Paris as Becky and I celebrated our anniversary with an altogether wonderful trip to the City of Light. We had taken an early morning train to Versailles. We loved the gardens, but the opulence of the palace was overwhelming in the way that too much of something sends the senses reeling, unable or unwilling to take it all in. As someone posted in reply to a photo I posted on Facebook, “it would have made me want to start a revolution, too.”
Returning to Paris mid-afternoon, we roamed our neighborhood on the Left Bank of the Seine, enjoying lunch at a sidewalk café, finding some last minute souvenirs, and visiting both Saint Sulpice and Saint Severin churches. Unlike Sainte Chapelle and Notre Dame we had seen earlier in the week, Sulpice and Severin are not so much tourist attractions, though tourists wander through the churches all day long. Images of the stained glass and magnificent organ of Saint Sulpice and the soaring arches of Saint Severin will remain in my mind’s eyes for years to come.
But neither the architecture nor the art of the churches struck me so much as something else we saw at Saint Sulpice. As we entered the long nave, our eyes were sent upward by the stained glass and the high arches of the ceiling, but our ears were captured by the sound of voices singing an Alleluia. At first I thought the music might be a recording played for the tourists. But there in a space behind the altar we found the source of the music. The voices belonged to maybe fifty children, eight and nine year olds, I would say, who were receiving instruction in the catechism and learning responses to be sung at mass.
According to recent studies, neither Christians (44%) nor Muslims (7%) are the largest segment of the French population. The surveys show 49% of French people as atheists or non-religious. Of the 45% of the population identifying as Christian, barely 5% attend worship regularly. Most church buildings are more museum than home for worshiping and serving Christian communities.
Of course, I know nothing about the good parents who sent their children to Saint Sulpice last Tuesday afternoon. I don’t know their hopes or their dreams for their children. But in secular France, 2017, with all the little gods worshiped by the atheists and the non-religious, the sight and sound of children learning to sing Alleluia to the God who enters our world to love and redeem strikes me as a revolutionary thing and hopeful.
LPC members know that this weekend is an important time in our institutional life as we are called to make decisions about mission and ministry and denominational identity.
Perhaps the most important event of the weekend will be over by 11:30 on Sunday morning, however. The youth in our confirmation class begin a forty-hour retreat at Blue Mountain Retreat Center northwest of Allentown at 6:00 this evening. They will back at LPC by 11:00 on Sunday morning. In secular America, 2017, with all the little gods worshiped by the atheists and the non-religious, with all the distractions of a confused culture, the reality of a class full of ninth graders learning about prayer and a good shepherd, a God who enters our world to love and to redeem is a revolutionary thing and hopeful.
Pray for our congregational meeting. Pray for the confirmation retreat; it may be more important.
See you Sunday.