We are in the car whizzing down the motorway from Calais towards Montreuil our first stop on the way down to the Loire Region of France. We know we are in France because we are driving on the wrong side of the road and A Secret History by The Divine Comedy is blaring out from the CD player. We are familiar with this road (I don’t know how many times we have driven it over the last umpteen years), but we still ooh and ah over well-known landmarks. A Secret History is always the first CD we play when driving in France – it has become a sort of tradition – we know all the songs and sing along to them as we drive. It must be something to do with the daft words, the jolly tunes, and an over-the-top sense of freedom that comes from being on holiday – just 10 days this time exploring some of the beautiful chateaux that the Loire is famous for.
We had a great Worship Service at Abbey Baptist Church, Reading, this morning. Julia let me out of my box so I could lead the service for her, freeing her up just to concentrate on the preach. It was good to be back in harness together again. Although we have fluctuated somewhat as to who takes the primary leadership role between us, this has always been something ostensibly imposed on us by the various churches we have served (since Julia was ordained), we have always seen ourselves as a team in which neither of us is more important than the other. We have always reckoned (given our respective ages, illnesses, weaknesses, etc.) that between the two of us the various churches have got one good one out of the sum of our various parts. We are being somewhat facetious of course in saying this – we have discovered that there is a very real synergy at work when we are freed up to work as a team. It usually takes some time, however, for the various churches to get hold of this concept of team.
We are heading for Montreuil for an overnight stop because we know the place and have visited several times before. Our friend Gordon once owned a mill house/restaurant here and we stopped with him several times in days gone by. We recall a great storm one night which necessitated all of us trying, unsuccessfully, to hold the roof slates of his barn on in the high winds for most of the night. The last time we were here was to celebrate my birthday a few years ago when we drove across to France just for the day and had an excellent lunch in a rather old-fashioned hotel. I think it was the only place open on that day – well it was November I suppose!
Julia has booked us in to a rather nice hotel in the centre of Montreuil and we arrive just in time to settle in to our room – we are given a free upgrade because there are not many people staying here tonight – and then go down to the bar for a drink before dinner. We decide to eat in the hotel restaurant because it is late, and we can’t be bothered to go traipsing around the town looking for a suitable eatery. The meal is excellent – escargot, beef bourguignon, cheese, coffee – and, although there may not be a lot of people staying the night in the hotel, the hotel restaurant is full.
As we are finishing our coffee the couple on the adjacent table to us strike up a conversation with us. They are Belgians who live in Bruges and are in Montreuil for the weekend. We know and love Bruges, so the conversation flows effortlessly. We ask our new friends what they do for a living? Monsieur Poirot (not his real name) immediately takes the floor and regales us with tales of his life on the high seas as an engineer travelling around the world. Madam Poirot’s job in an office seems quite mild in comparison. The fun really starts, however, when he asks us what we do for a living. We are treated to a diatribe from Monsieur about the evils of Catholicism. We have encountered this problem before – the inability of people in countries where the prominent religion is Roman Catholicism to distinguish between the words, ‘Catholicism’ and ‘Christian’ – so we now describe ourselves as ‘followers of Jesus’ rather than Christians. Monsieur finds it difficult to find anything about Jesus to be critical about. Julia (who knows a lot about these things) gently explains the importance of the Church in the history of Bruges over the years and its influence in making Bruges what it is today. Monsieur is impressed. Madame wants to know about our church in Reading and what we are seeking to do. We talk to her about the holistic nature of the Gospel message and how we seek to serve God and our community in practical ways (such as helping to provide overnight accommodation for the homeless during the cold winter months) as well as spiritual, although coming to know Jesus in a personal way is at the heart of our Gospel. The Poirots are evidently enjoying the conversation and treat us to another coffee, but eventually it is time for them to leave. Monsieur Poirot thanks us for our stimulating conversation but maintains he remains agnostic. Madame Poirot, however, whispers to me on the way out, ‘I too am a believer!’
After a full day, and an excellent meal, Julia and I ready for bed. We get up from our table and are about to leave when a group of four Brits on a nearby table call us over. ‘We couldn’t help but overhear some of your conversation’ they say, ‘please come and join us, we have lots of questions we want to ask you …’
We finally get to bed sometime after midnight! Who says people do not have a spiritual side to them and are no longer interested in spiritual things? It has been an interesting day to say the least. I am reminded of one the title of one of the songs on The Divine Comedy CD we were listening to earlier in the day – The Certainty of Chance!