How can a small, cold, uninsulated, cold, stone and wood, freezing-cold chapel with 12 people at the church service really be “alive”? Because God showed up at our little church in Meribel. More of that later, but first let me take you back to the start of this.
As I said in the last blog, the little stone chapel (did I mention it was cold?) in Meribel was unused apart from on Christmas Day and Easter Day. We were given permission to start running English-speaking services there from the start of January 2017 (not 2016 as I said in the last blog). So a week before our first advertised service, myself and Dan & Rosanna, wrapped up warm, and headed off to church to pray over the building. Dan and Rosanna had been employed by CORA (Christian Outreach in the Alps) as Young Evangelists, to spend a season in Meribel, supporting the launch of the chapel, and being a Christian presence in resort.
The three of us were praying in the chapel, when to our surprise, three lovely Brits walked in, looking for the church service that they’d seen advertised! Having planned nothing, Dan, Rosanna and I quickly consulted, and cobbled together what resembled a church service. So on January 1st 2017, the English-Speaking Church in Meribel was launched with 6 of us singing God’s praises, hearing from his Word, and spending time together in fellowship. It was an encouraging start – 100% more people than we were planning for! And to be honest we were just surprised that anyone turned up. And every week after that, there were surprises in store.
Our first chaplain, Tim Gamston, arrived in January. Whilst we had a basic Order of Service sheet to use as a guide, each chaplain very much took the service in their own style, so across the season we had a wonderful variety of leadership, preaching, and worship styles. We managed to lose the key to the chapel before Tim’s first service, so Nick, Meribel Ski Chalets’ business manager and passionate Christian, waited at the chapel doors with our minibus, and ferried those that came, up to the chaplain’s apartment. Nick’s a lovely big guy, with an even bigger smile, but we were still really impressed that complete strangers happily jumped in his van, to come to church. He could have been taking them anywhere.
One day in January, Richard and Liz showed up to church. As always, God knew this was all going to happen – Liz had been in Meribel many years previously, with a group praying for revival in the chapel. And now, years later, the chapel is alive. Richard has a flat in Meribel, and, along with a lovely lady called Janet, the two of them were our regular congregation for that first season. They were mostly joined by holiday-makers who would come for the Sunday that they were in resort. One or two young seasonnaires would pop in, but we weren’t connecting with them.
And then an Irish lady turned up – let’s call her Cara. She’d seen us in the chapel from her flat across the road. Cara was struggling with being bullied at work, and she had given up on church as a child growing up in Ireland. Dan and Rosanna and Cara became close friends, and our small community here was a refuge for Cara during a hard season. By the end of the winter, she had reconnected with Jesus, and was going home to find a job with Scripture Union. This is why we are here.
Our first season running the chapel was a steep learning curve. The biggest lesson we learnt: no matter how many layers you wore to church, you’d never be warm enough! We have had many discussions with the Mairie (the Town Hall) about the heating arrangements at the chapel, but this is still one prayer that God hasn’t answered. Still, where does it say in the Bible “You will worship in nice, warm comfort”?
Across the season, we had 8 chaplains serving the church, including Tim Saiet, who laid on a magic show during his week’s stay. Hopefully a few misconceptions about Christians disappeared that evening.
Dan and Rosanna worked for Meribel Ski Chalets as well as CORA, and we found that their biggest witness to their non-Christian colleagues, was how they applied themselves to their work. By the end of the season, Dan was having deep theological chats with his colleagues, whilst mopping the kitchen floor. This was a real encouragement, and we hope and pray that good seed was sown.
I was still commuting from the Isle of Wight to Meribel throughout this season, and Lara would bring the kids during school holidays. However, we decided that if we really wanted to build the church, and the Christian community here in Meribel, we needed to take the kids out of school, and live in Meribel for the entire season. Once we took that step of faith, God really showed up…