American Cathedral, Paris (Interior)

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Paris, France


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
Location: Paris, France
Date of visit: Sunday, 2 October 2011, 11:00am

The building

A large building in the English Gothic Revival style dating from 1882, situated in the center of Paris, not to be confused with the American Church on the other side of the river. The central nave has 52 flags hanging on both sides, representing the United States, France, and the 50 American states. For me, an added bonus was that the piano Cole Porter is supposed to have played when he was in Paris is in the cathedral, although it is rarely uncovered.

The church

An international English-speaking community, the cathedral serves as the seat for the bishop in charge of Episcopal churches in Europe. On a Sunday there are eucharists at 9.00am and 11.00am, and an informal service at 6.00pm. There is also a Sunday school and services during the week. The cathedral is involved in supporting disadvantaged groups in the local community. There are many other activities such as Bible study groups, all of which are detailed on the cathedral's website.

The neighborhood

Where do I start? This is Paris and everything is interesting! The cathedral is located on Avenue George V in the eighth arrondissement, which is on the right bank of the Seine and near the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysees. The Seine and Eiffel Tower are just down the road. The unofficial Diana memorial is close by at Place d'Alma.

The cast

The Rt Revd Pierre Whalon, bishop in charge of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, was the preacher. The Revd Canon Elizabeth Hendrick, canon pastor, was the celebrant. The dean, the Very Revd Zachary Fleetwood, was also in attendance.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist and Ground Breaking

How full was the building?

The central part of the cathedral was comfortably full. The one side aisle of seats was mostly full too.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Someone handed me an order of service and said "Hello", or was it "Bonjour"? We exchanged handshakes at the peace.

Was your pew comfortable?

Pews were good so good I didnt really notice sitting on them!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I arrived as the choir were rehearsing a descant it sounded magnificent. Then it was quiet until the talented organist started playing, about five minutes before worship started.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

A processional hymn started the service, and then we went straight into the liturgy: "Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit." The welcome from the front came toward the end of the service.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Hymnal 1982 and the order of service. The Book of Common Prayer was available but not used.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. One of the largest in Europe, it was built in 1887 by the noted French organ builder Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, who was responsible for many organs throughout Europe and as far afield as Japan. Composers Marcel Dupré and Maurice Duruflé were involved in its evolution during the first half of the 20th century.

Did anything distract you?

The lady in the row in front who kept looking round not at me, but it was still rather off-putting. Also a child and parent behind who insisted on having a loud conversation throughout communion and during some of the beautiful music.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Formal. Everything was professionally done, but for me the main worship rather lacked a sense a joy.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

6 – The sermon was good and easy to follow. It felt very serious I wanted some fun to invade it occasionally to make it even more accessible.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

This was a special day for the congregation. It was the start of the building work after, I suspect, years of planning. The sermon reflected this and was based of the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21. The preacher compared what we need to do to produce a good vineyard with Gods presence with us, and how God "gets his hands dirty" trying to help us. Two key points: first, God doesnt give up if the grapes dont turn out well. He will start over again. Second, God gave us Jesus, "the true vine", to help us so we shouldnt rely on our own efforts but on his grace. This theme was then tied up to the new building work which could be justified only if, through it, more people (the branches) could have access to the vine.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The communion anthem, Ave verum corpus by William Byrd. The choir stood at the back of the church and the music fitted beautifully with the congregation moving to the front to receive communion.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The prayers of the people were rather formal and for me somewhat disappointing. They were written in the order of service and just read out. Didnt feel like God got much of a look in.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

After the main service there was the "groundbreaking" liturgy in the dean's garden, where the first shovels of earth were lifted in preparation for the building in the coming days. We didnt have a chance to hang around but all processed out. We were given a glass of champagne (kind of – there are high standards. This is France after all!) or orange juice to toast the building. This was where the fun and joy were. It felt a real sense of occasion and people seemed genuinely excited. The digging was done by the clergy, some younger members of the congregation, and an older member (really nice touch). After the liturgy, the digging and the toast, we were treated to a marvelous song from the choir with some amusing new lyrics to the tune of "Im getting married in the morning" which ended with a prayer (same tune!) that we all sang.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

After the groundbreaking, I went to get a cup of coffee in the parish hall. Nice coffee, not sure if it was fairly traded. It was help-yourself, which was no doubt efficient, but meant no one spoke to me. As I hung around in the hall, still no one spoke (some work to do for the congregation here in welcoming newcomers) and I eventually left. On the way out, no one stopped me to ask who I was or where I was from.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – I suspect there is a strong cultural identity of the English speakers in Paris, which makes this a community center as well as a church. Maybe it fulfills a need for members of the congregation to meet with friends, which could be why visitors are not welcomed so well.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Mostly yes certainly the groundbreaking did (maybe that was helped by the champagne!).

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The groundbreaking: especially the way they involved the old and the young in the digging.

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