British Christians too often assume that the only significant
Christian presence in France is Roman Catholic. While this is
largely true, it is good to note a vigorous historic Protestant
Church life in France, too. For instance, the remarkable Christian
community at Taizé has deep roots in francophone Protestantism, and
the hymn "Thine be the glory" comes from the French
A breathless survey of European church history might also throw
up the recognition that on St Bartholomew's Eve 1572 there was a
massacre of Protestant leaders in Paris, and similar violence to
Huguenot communities in other parts of France.
Eventually, after intercommunal fighting, relative peace - at
least the toleration of Calvinist Protestants - was
established at the Edict of Nantes in 1598. This held for less than
a century, before being revoked in 1685. At that point, Protestants
were expected to be reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church, or
face exile, or worse. This sparked off an exodus of more than
200,000 Huguenots, including 40,000 to these shores and 10,000 to
Ireland. This Protestant kingdom was glad to welcome fellow
What is not so often recognised is that a small Protestant
community survived in France. Today, across most of the country,
there are nearly 400,000 Reformed Christians, scattered in mostly
small communities, although larger groupings exist in areas such as
the Poitou and the Cevennes. There are about 360 ordained
ministers, and Protestant faculties of theology at the Universities
of Paris, Montpellier, and Strasbourg.
A French colleague once said to me that after periods of
persecution, followed by ridicule, followed by toleration, the
French Reformed Church became a small-but-not-insignificant part of
the French social and religious scene. Given its history, it often
sees itself as a voice for those on the margins - offering
prophetic social critique and unassuming diaconal help to those on
the edge of society.
THIS is by no means the only historic Protestant narrative at
work in France. Alsace and Lorraine have chequered histories of
inclusion in wider political entities - first Prussian, then
French, and so on, through different episodes of war - but today
the three eastern departements are very much part of
France. Here, Lutheran Christians account for about 15 per cent of
Yet, in Alsace-Lorraine, there is also a small denomination of
Reformed congregations, just as elsewhere in France there is a
small Lutheran network of churches, often originating in
chaplaincies to communities from Lutheran nations elsewhere in
Getting on for 700,000 Protestant Christians are now accounted
for in the continuing life of four nationwide communities: two
Reformed and two Lutheran. The Protestant map of France thus has a
complex outline, but recent events reveal something impressive, and
may offer signposts for our continuing story in Britain.
It is not surprising that in a French nation that is formally
secular that Lutheran and Calvinist heirs of the historic
Reformation have long seen one another as partners - despite
differences of practice and priority. There has been an increasing
impetus towards unity, not just over particular projects and shared
resources, but a more organic unity in ecclesial life.
Two pathways have led here. In Alsace-Lorraine, there has been
much common pastoral activity for more than 40 years: agreement on
baptism policy, co-operation in confirmation preparation (offering
an impressive process, as noted by Anglican colleagues), and shared
training of pastors. Then, in 2006, the Union of Protestant
Churches in Alsace and Lorraine was brought into being, and a
common ordinal adopted two years later. Two identifiable bodies
remain, but boundaries are entirely porous.
Across the rest of the country, the majority Reformed Church,
with its tradition of vigorous debate, has also engaged in costly
conversation, leading to a significant level of convergence with
the much smaller and more traditional Lutheran Church of France. In
a historic moment in 2007, the synods of the two Churches agreed
overwhelmingly to organic union and the formation of one new
Église Protestante Unie de France.
This came into being in May this year, amid great celebration in
Lyon. The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Christopher Hill (a
founding co-chair of the Reuilly Contact Group), represented the
Church of England, along with representatives of many other
European Churches (I was sorry not to be there because of
THESE steps into a new unity in Christ are seen as incremental.
There will be no turning back, although much still waits to be
accomplished. Key factors in the journey thus far have included the
transparent sharing of financial resources - wealthier churches
fully supporting others.
Equally, the smaller Churches in discussion with the far larger
denominations have, by mutual agreement, been deliberately
over-represented in decision-making, so that their anxieties about
being "swallowed up" have been largely allayed. Confessional
identities are also being honoured. In all these things, mutual
respect and accountability have grown organically.
British Anglicans can learn from French Protestant brothers and
sisters. Themes of mutual honour, representation, and
accountability are surely part of the currency of "reconciled
diversity" that are deep within the DNA of Anglicanism.
On a more informal level, it is good that when visiting France,
we seek out Protestant communities with whom to worship (alongside
Roman Catholic ones, of course), and to whom we can take Anglican
greetings, as fellow travellers on the Way. The Reuilly Accord has
been in place for more than a decade, so we are certainly not
strangers to one another. May the Lord bless us all: Que le
Seigneur nous tous bénisse!
The Rt Revd Christopher Morgan retired last month as Area
Bishop of Colchester. He is the Anglican co-chairman of the Reuilly
Contact Group, which enables conversation between representatives
of British Anglican Churches and the historic Protestant Churches