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PEOPLE AND PARROTS (Pottering in Paris 2)

Sacre-Coeur

Sacre-Coeur

It is the second day of our two week holiday in Paris, France. Yesterday was wonderfully warm and sunny when we arrived at Gare du Nord, and the streets of Monmartre were packed with people – Parisians and tourists – out enjoying what was forecast to be the last Sunny day for some time. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, commonly known as Sacré-Cœur Basilica and often simply Sacré-Cœur was as striking as we remembered it from last time we were here 10 years ago. A popular landmark, the basilica is located at the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city. Yesterday Sacré-Cœur was packed with people sitting on the grass around the church, climbing the escalliers, queuing for the funicular railway, or browsing the numerous shops. Last time we were here there was a Service on a Saturday evening led by Nuns. It was absolutely beautiful and we hope that there will be something similar again while we are here in Monmartre.

After we had found our way to our studio flat, we unpacked and Julia then went to explore Sacré-Cœur while I had a rest. It was so crowded that Julia left going into the church until later in the week when hopefully a lot of the tourists will have gone home and the locals will be back at work. In the meantime there was shopping to be done, so it was off to find the local supermarket. An hour later we struggled back with our shopping bags full to overflowing. Needless to say Julia managed to find a bag and scarf shop on the way?! She was very disciplined, however, and didn’t buy anything although I suspect she has got her eye on something – probably another scarf – and we will just happen to pass the shop again later in the week? We decide to eat in and enjoy a sumptuous meal … with a different glass of wine for each course?!

Today, we wake up after a good night’s sleep, and after an excellent breakfast – fruit, eggs, wonderful French bread and jam, and coffee of course – head for the Metro! According to the weather forecast it is supposed to be cold and wet … in reality it is another lovely warm and sunny day! We are off to Saint Michael’s Church (which is part of the Anglican Chaplaincy) for their 11.15 a.m. Service. Saint Michael’s is situated in the Embassy District of Paris, near the Madeleine. Julia found the Church on the Internet a few weeks ago when she was searching for somewhere for us to worship while we were in Paris. Fascinatingly, a couple of weeks later, when we were visiting a church in Warwickshire for initial conversations concerning the vacant Pastorate there, we met a chap in the church whose daughter, Natalie, was the Children, Youth and Students’ Worker at Saint Michael’s. Apparently she had read Julia’s profile and had encouraged the church in question to seriously consider her?! Although nothing actually came of our visit to Warwickshire in the end, Julia struck up an email friendship with Natalie and we have arranged to meet up with her while we are in Paris and ‘do lunch’ together.

The Paris Metro (like the London Tube) is wonderful and easy to use – once we have managed to grasp the ticketing system. The ornate entrances to many of the stations are themselves beautiful works of art. We walk to our local Metro station – Abbess – and board a train to Madeleine. It is only a few stops along the line, but time for both a busker and a train evangelist to board our carriage?! The buskers playing on the Paris Metro is not unusual. This one is playing an accordion. I am tempted to request ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ (Rugby enthusiasts will understand this) .. but manage to resist the temptation. No sooner does the busker move on to another carriage, than he is replaced by a train evangelist!? He wanders down the carriage ‘shouting the Good News’ at us! He too is ignored! He is somewhat of a scruffy individual and his appearance and manner doesn’t really enhance the Gospel. I am tempted to ask him, ‘Avez-vous le secret du bonheur?’ … but he is moving so fast I don’t have time to stop him. Perhaps the reason he is moving so quickly is that he is afraid someone will actually want to stop him and ask some pertinent question?

We alight from the Metro and go for a coffee because we are early. Our coffees cost us a fortune … well it is Paris after all – but we enjoy sitting in the warm sunshine watching the world go by. We eventually find our way to Saint Michael’s – it looks like an office block rather than a church, but the interior is lovely and the welcome is warm. The Senior Chaplain, Alyson, hails from Holy Trinity Brompton originally (the ‘mother ship’ she calls it) and is one of those wonderfully precious HTB types. We love her immediately and she leads the worship meaningfully with humour and engagement. Alyson announces the result of the church’s recent Gift Day – a staggering 147,000€ – quite a difference from the usual £6,000 or so usually raised in British Baptist Churches?! The music is good, Natalie and her helpers lead a wonderful children’s spot, and the Assistant Chaplain, John, preaches an excellent sermon (from the Book of Nehemiah) about making meaningful promises! The Service concludes with Holy Communion (with wonderful French wafers and wine) and we all leave feeling that we have received something from God, and inspired for the week ahead. Natalie takes us to a nearby restaurant where we enjoy a nice meal together and an opportunity to get to know each other better. She is a lovely person and we feel that – if nothing else came out of our visit to Warwickshire a few weeks ago – we have made a new friend.

On our way back to our flat, Julia and I are still laughing at the story about a parrot John used to introduce the theme of his sermon. It goes something like this: A certain man inherits a parrot. It is rather a nice parrot but unfortunately uses a lot of bad language. The man tries everything he knows – reason, bribery, threats – to persuade the parrot to change his ways, but all to no avail. Eventually – when the man has exhausted all other means, he loses his temper completely and, grabbing hold of the parrot, takes it into the kitchen and throws it into the freezer, slamming the freezer door tight shut. He hears the parrot squawking and swearing and banging about inside the freezer for a time … and then suddenly everything goes ominously quiet!? After a few minutes the man begins to feel rather guilty! He wonders if he has actually caused the parrot’s demise? He opens the door of the freezer and to his surprise finds the parrot quietly sitting there very thoughtfully. The parrot hops on to his arm, very subdued and repentant, and apologises for all its previous bad behaviour, and solemnly promises to be better behaved in the future! ‘I have just one question’ says the parrot,  ‘… whatever did the chicken do?’

Jim Binney

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