We always thought that the Venerable Kenneth Letts, chaplain of Holy Trinity, Nice, was media-shy (so he refused details of his Christmas services once again but we got them from the parish magazine) but the other day, though, he was happy to tell the London Times that the congregation of his church had grown by a third since he took charge. We don’t doubt this for a moment. While at home congregations continue a dwindle, in France the Church of England is doing well. Why do so many expats show up at services? Churches offer a welcome point of social contact and there’s also, even for previous non-church-goers, a factor of cultural nostalgia. “It’s like Marmite or marmalade,” Letts’s predecessor, John Livingstone, once remarked to us. This brought him some criticism but unjustly. Whatever draws people to church initially may well turn into a deeper motive. And quite a few would agree with a former Londoner who says that “church seems more convivial here”.
This area is different in an important respect from most other parts of France in having, for historical reasons, purpose-built Anglican churches. So what do they do in other parts of the country? They borrow churches from the Roman Catholics and everyone seems happy with the arrangement. In the Diocese of Périgueux-Sarlat, for example, eight churches regularly welcome chaplains (or chaplainesses) and their flocks. Fifty years ago this would have been very unlikely. And what would Cardinal Vaughan, Archbishop of Westminster (pictured), have had to say, he who in the 1890s described the Anglican clergy as “the marionettes of Satan”? Progress.