It took three and three-quarter hours to travel by TGV from Brussels to Lyon, far enough to be in a different climate, where the crocuses, primroses and even some daffodils were in bloom. We checked in to a family-run hotel close to the magnificent Place Bellecour, in the heart of France’s second city.
There was just time to change before leaving for Mass, where chaplain Ben Harding and I were guests of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. He gave me a gracious introduction and invited me to read the gospel. The temperature inside the splendid cathedral was icy, and we were glad of our coats.
After Mass, Cardinal Barbarin took Ben and me to his home for dinner. Underneath the community building where he lives, down many staircases, is a crypt in the process of renovation. He told us that under the crypt are interred the bodies of second century Christian martyrs who had originally been thrown into the river. We prayed together in this holy place. The city of Lyon truly takes us back to the some of the oldest expressions of Western Christianity.
Conversation over dinner was wide-ranging, interesting and frequently humorous. The Cardinal has been a good friend both to Ben and his predecessor Chris Martin, and we were grateful for his warm hospitality.
The following morning, Helen and I had the pleasure of meeting the Council of the Anglican Church, over a second breakfast. Our church in Lyon is highly international and holds together recent arrivals and more transient members with some who have been long and faithful members of the community. We talked about the church’s outreach work: the counselling service founded by Susie Martin, links with relief agencies, partnership with a thriving neighbouring Roman Catholic community. The community is dispersed across and beyond this large city, and I learnt that mid-week gatherings like mums-and-toddlers and social networking are important for keeping people in touch.
In the afternoon, there was some free time to explore the historic centre of Lyon. We took the funicular up to the magnificent Roman amphitheatres – Lyon was the most important city of Roman Gaul – and walked along to la Fourvière’s panoramic view of the city.
In the evening, we shared goûter at Ben and Jo Harding’s home with the confirmation candidates – three adults and two youngsters. After discussion about our various faith journeys, Ben had arranged a short night-hike in the neighbouring woods. Equipped with candles, stout shoes and a few torches we allowed ourselves to experience the darkness and reflected on some Bible passages that testified to Jesus as the light coming into the world. Albeit somewhat tamer than, say, spending a week fending for oneself in the forest, Ben envisaged this as something of an initiation rite for the two young lads in transition to manhood. It was a memorable part of the confirmation. (Actually, the exercise was made a more realistic test of courage than I had expected when we encountered a lone male in the woods in dark clothing, who was probably there for less spiritual reasons than ourselves…)
The following morning we gathered in the Anglican Church’s place of worship – an ecumenical centre owned by Roman Catholic nuns called ‘En-Guédi’. In a lively act of worship accompanied by a music group, we confirmed our candidates. After the service we enjoyed a ‘bring and share’ lunch, and it was – even in February – warm enough to eat together in the garden behind the centre.
Helen duly returned from Part-Dieu north to Brussels, whilst I travelled on South to St. Raphael to interview for a new chaplain. We had shared a most encouraging and joyous weekend with this dynamic church community.