Sunday morning, and we are off to church. In fact we are planning to go twice today – to the Anglican Church this morning and then, after a rest this afternoon, to the Baptist Church this evening. Conveniently the English Speaking Baptists don’t have a morning service in Nice, and the English speaking Anglican Church doesn’t have an evening service. Holy Trinity Church is just a few blocks away, whilst Nice International Baptist Church is a bit of a hike north of here.
We are looking forward to visiting Holy Trinity. We think it was the church that played a significant part in the building of the Promenade des Anglais back in the 19th century. It is an impressive building, set in its own grounds with a beautifully maintained graveyard, a lovely church hall with a wonderful roof terrace garden, and a lovely old Presbytery next door where the Vicar lives. The congregation are gathering as we arrive – they seem a rather posh lot – a mixture of Brits, Americans, and French (either married to Brits or Americans, or wanting to immerse themselves in all things English). We are given an ancient hymn book and an order of service booklet and find a pew two thirds of the way down the church. The building is light and airy and there are about 120 of us in the congregation … and I appear to be the second youngest?! The Service is verging towards High Church – but stopping short of ‘smells and bells’ – and there are lots of crossing oneself at various points as the Service progresses. We start 10 minutes late – but what the heck we are on ‘Nice time’!
The Service follows the order for the Sunday after Ascension Day and the whole occasion is relevant, meaningful and a delight. The Vicar has a wonderful voice, leads the worship well, prays intelligently and thoughtfully, and preaches a gripping 10 minutes sermon based on one of the set Bible readings for the day (John 17). There is no Church Choir, but there is a Cantor who leads us in all the sung responses. He looks like Friar Tuck and has the most amazing bass voice – I could listen to him sing all day long. The sung responses are all lively little tunes and we join in with gusto. We sing some hymns as well – not a ‘modern song’ in sight – beginning with my favourite hymn, F W Faber’s ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’. This hymn should be sung at least once a month in every church in the UK simply for the theology alone!
We share Communion together – the Communion wine is somewhat disappointing and we wonder if they have given us the water used to wash out the Communion Cup by mistake – but it remains a precious moment for us, none-the-less. The Service concludes with the singing of Sydney Carter’s ‘Lord of the Dance’ which actually is quite appropriate on this occasion. The elderly man sitting next to us pulls a face, however, at the inclusion of such a ‘modern song’ in the Service! ‘Lord of the Dance’ was in fact written in 1963?!
After the Service we are invited to the beautiful Church Hall, with the lovely roof terrace garden, for refreshments. There is coffee and wine on offer, and we discover why the Communion wine was so poor. In good Biblical tradition – with the Story of the Wedding Feast at Cana obviously in mind – the best wine has been kept until last! We get into conversation with ‘Derek from Hull’ – he and his wife have retired to Nice and they wax eloquently about being here, and suggest that we do the same. To hear them speak it sounds wonderful … and then we learn that Derek has a 90 year old mother back in the UK, and a daughter who has cancer … so perhaps it is not quite so wonderful being so far from the UK after all?
Derek tells us that there are lots of significant and famous people who are members of the church. He points out a former Poet Laureate to us wearing a bright red blazer, and looks around for Ted Dexter the former England Cricket Captain who also worships here. He can’t see him – I suggest that perhaps he slipped out for a round of golf straight after the Service? Derek also tells us that the Vicar is about to retire – his wife is not too well at all – and they are going to live in Australia to be near their family. I wonder how quickly we can transfer to the Church of England and apply for the job?
As we take our leave we see a sign directing us to the grave of Henry Francis Lyte, the author of ‘Abide with Me’ – another well known hymn that I wish we sung more often because the words are great! As we are looking at the grave we get into conversation with another couple who have retired and have bought a place in Nice – an apartment on the sea front next to another famous Nice hotel, the Palais de la Mediterranee. They must be well off, these two because, when I looked in an Estate Agent’s window the other day, these apartments were on sale for in excess of a million Euros?! We walk back to our somewhat cheaper rented studio apartment several blocks from the sea front – conscious that we may be ‘poor’ financially but that we are ‘rich’ in so many others ways!
After a nice rest during the afternoon we set off to visit Nice International Baptist Church. It is up somewhere past Nice Central Station, but we have a map and eventually we find it. We discover that the building actually belongs to the (French speaking) French Baptists (who use it for worship on a Sunday morning) and that the (English speaking) Nice International Baptists rent the building to use for worship on Sunday evenings. The Nice International Baptist Church also meets on a Sunday morning out in Saint Paul de Vence. Having heard a wonderful sermon this morning about the importance of being one, this arrangement seems somewhat odd to us?!
The building itself is very dated with the most uncomfortable wooden pews we have ever sat in, dismal décor with biblical texts galore painted on all the walls – loads of them – and great big old fashioned placards all round the church glorying in its past?! All this, we guess, stems from the French Baptists, and surmise that the International Baptists are not allowed to change anything. The down stairs of the church is packed when we arrive with about 60 people, virtually all of them young people! In contrast to Holy Trinity Church this morning – where I was the second youngest – I am now clearly the oldest person present. We are very impressed by the numbers of young people … until we discover that the vast majority of them are made up of two student groups visiting Nice, one from the USA and the other from Canada?! Indeed it soon becomes obvious that we are the only Brits present. The International Baptists are trying hard though. They have a screen and a data projector, a nice young guy leading the worship – all modern worship songs, not an old hymn in sight – and there is a friendly informal atmosphere.
After singing some jolly songs, and an opportunity to get to know each other through informal chat, followed by a time of ‘open prayer’, we get to the preaching! No 10 minute carefully prepared, thoughtful ‘homily’, faithful to the church year here!? The American Pastor of the Church preaches for 50 minutes, expounding Luke 17:20-37 verse by verse?! Apparently he has been going through the Gospel of Luke like this for 18 months, Sunday after Sunday? In fairness, he is quite good, although it is a little too long even for people like us who are used to sitting in lectures. It is certainly too long for most of the congregation and he loses them after the first 20 minutes. Nevertheless he carries on regardless – his philosophy appears to be ‘I’ve started, so I’ll finish!’ It is good, however, to hear preaching that actually seeks to expound the Scriptures, even if my bottom is becoming somewhat numb sitting for so long on these hard pews?! We learn that the Pastor has no plans to move on in the immediate future … so there is no good applying here then?! We decline the invitation to stay on for ‘coffee and cookies’ after the Service and start to head for home. On the way out of the church Julia has a nice conversation with a Romanian Pentecostal Christian who is also here for the first time like us. He doesn’t know if he will be back … and neither do we? I don’t think I could manage to preach a 50 minute sermon these days … and I don’t think that the Southern Baptists would go for a female Pastor either?!