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|1774: Auditoire de Calvin, Geneva, Switzerland
Photo: Doc Glasgow
de Calvin, Geneva, Switzerland.
The Auditoire de Calvin (Calvinís Oratory) is a Gothic chapel
that dates from the 13th century. This is the very building
where John Knox preached and John Calvin taught missionaries
his doctrines. An impressive flight of stairs leads up to the
main entrance. The interior of the building breathes simplicity.
The modern feel of the coloured windows contrasts with the traditional
seating arrangement Ė straight rows of chairs, all facing the
front. A side door leads to a tiny courtyard from which one
can ascend by lift or stairs to the church hall.
The Church of Scotland in Geneva is one of several English-speaking
congregations that minister to the many expatriates who live
and work there. While it is part of the Church of Scotlandís
Presbytery of Europe, the congregation is made up of over 30
different nationalities representing more than a dozen different
denominations. The congregation shares the building with two
other congregations, the Dutch Protestants and the Italian Waldensians.
The Auditoire de Calvin is located in the heart of Genevaís
historical Old Town and is dwarfed by its immediate neighbour,
the huge Cathédrale St-Pierre of the French-speaking
Protestant Church of Geneva, stripped bare of its religious
images by Calvin and his followers. Underneath the cathedral,
one can visit an amazing archaeological site that features the
remains of two 4th-century Christian sanctuaries, mosaic floors
from the late Roman Empire, portions of some early churches,
and an 11th-century crypt. Also on display is a chair said to
have been used by Calvin, suitably austere and practical.
The minister was the Revd Douwe Visser, executive secretary
for theology and ecumenical engagement for the World Alliance
of Reformed Churches. The regular minister was away on holiday.
The date & time:
Sunday, 19 July 2009, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
With about 100 worshippers of all ages. The church was more
than half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Several ushers were posted by the entrance to welcome the worshippers.
A friendly woman welcomed me and gave me a hymnbook and order
Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden chairs were modestly padded and I had enough legroom
to feel comfortable. Only afterward did I notice that the preacher
had sat on Calvinís chair.
How would you describe the pre-service
There was quiet chatting, especially by the entrance at the back of the church.
What were the exact opening words of the
"You are all welcome here."
What books did the congregation use during the
The denominationís standard hymn book, the Church Hymnary
(fourth edition, 2005).
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The main distraction, in an odd sort of way, was the guest preacher
himself. He seemed ill-at-ease before the start of the service,
wandering around at the front but shying away from contact with
congregants. Only once he got into his sermon did he seem more
in his element.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
It was uplifting, with a good selection of hymns and an inspiring
sermon, but at times it felt awkward. Pastor Visser tried to
inject some humour into his remarks, but he was thwarted by
his "polder English." There was a baptism this morning
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
8 Pastor Visser seemed more in his element when he read
his prepared sermon than when he spoke off the cuff. Pleasingly,
the sermon was both clear and engaging.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The story told by Jesus of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32)
is a parable about conflicts that are within each of us. We
cannot live with the bitterness displayed by the older son.
We each need to be reconciled with God and with ourselves. God
is like the father who wants to reconcile what seems irreconcilable.
Which part of the service was like being in
I especially enjoyed the selection of hymns that were familiar
to me from younger years, but which I had not heard for quite
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Now, Iím used to baptisms where the mother holds her infant
child at all times. And so I was caught completely by surprise
when the minister took the baby away from his parents and headed
for what appeared to be the exit. (As it turned out, he was
presenting the child to the congregation.) But he held the child
for the entire ceremony. Baby did not seem to mind and there
was some laughter from the congregation. But it seemed like
the parents were reduced to mere onlookers. Perhaps thatís how
Calvin baptised infants in his day, and presumably there is
some theological rationale to back it up, but I had not seen
it done this way before and found it strange.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As I hung around near the main doors, a friendly woman was quick
to ask me a little about myself and invite me to stay for coffee
in the church hall. The invitation to stay for coffee and fellowship
was also prominent in the order of service.
How would you describe the after-service
The coffee was OK, served in one of an eclectic range of mugs.
Tea was also available, and there were some functional-looking
biscuits. On reading the congregationís website afterwards,
I learned that all coffee and tea served during the coffee hour
are fair trade.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I don't live in Geneva and so this does not apply.
However, it was a good service and a friendly congregation.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. I especially enjoyed the selection of hymns, the sermon,
and the diversity of the congregation.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The disturbing episode in which the minister took the infant
away from his parents and seemed to walk off, only returning
the child after the act of baptism.
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