But what happened in the middle, mainly spent with people chatting, once again gave me a real taste of the city, an enjoyable flavour that is CVV Paris (the French translating into The Way, The Truth and The Life).
It was dark when I arrived on the Saturday, first having to make my way from the Gard De Nord train station that my Euro Star train had arrived at, going down 4 levels to the RER underground system. My French goes as far as hello, thanks and my name is...But I managed to buy a ticket, eventually find my way to the correct level and find myself on the right platform waiting for the train to come, that would take me the 6 stops I needed to get me to their flat.
These six stops, I was to learn, took me from one end of Paris to the other - Paris, to the French, is only the centre, which hosts about 2 million people. Anything beyond that is no longer Paris, something which I was to learn would have implications for the church plant I was there to visit.
For as good as the venue was last week in Dublin, my route into church here in Paris was as good in every way, as I joined George in his usual commute, on the bike. Paris has a wonderful network of these free bikes (free, once you've paid to have the key that releases the bike, and providing you use it for less than 30 minutes in one go). In the centre, there are bike stands every 1/4 mile, and George showed me how first he checks online that there are some bikes at the nearest stand, before also then checking that there are free spaces to put the bike into stands at the other end, two possible stands both having about 6 free spaces each. And off we went, along the dedicated cycle lanes for most of the twenty minute journey, sometimes on the road, but Paris at 9:30am on a Sunday really isn't that busy. The bike was good, if not simple, apart from the breaks being a little unhelpful in that they hardly slowed me down once we were going down a down-hill section..but I enjoyed it all and having parked it up, we walked the final hundred meters to the house (yes house) of one of the other leaders, where its been converted to seat somewhere around 60 people for the church to meet in down stairs.
They are a very warm and friendly people, as well as being an international bunch - I even met a Russian lady there, so was at least able to communicate in a language other that English, as my French is, well, not French! (I case you hadn't picked up on that already!)
Like St Petersburg, CVV Paris is two thirds natives, though similarly, the three leaders aren't themselves French. But there was clearly real strength in the church, within the crowd of I'm guessing 50+, there were just two babies, the rest all adults of various ages.
The meetings are done only in French (I had someone translate for me), and it did show me the advantage, if we can call it that, that comes from working in only the native language, and the leaders themselves being able to speak that language. George preached, having always preached there in French. It does help that most, if not all, of those non French people that moved to Paris in order to join the church plant, had at least a good grasp of the language before, if not were already fluent. Some had already lived in other parts of France, or French speaking countries before, which of course helps. French is much wider taught in schools in England than Russian is, but it certainly has helped them therefore, though there is always a lot to learn and clearly all the internationals have done well with their language since arriving in Paris.
But with the locals views on what makes up Paris, technically the meeting was just outside Paris and a little harder to get to for those not travelling in on bikes. While the venue offers great financial sense for the church (in that its owned by a leader and therefore there is no rental cost, as far as I was aware), it's location, coupled with the fact that they are now already filling the hall, means they will start to go through soon, no doubt, the phase of looking for a more central, and no doubt much more costly, venue.
Paris, like St Petersburg, is a very expensive city! And while those joining the church plant don't face the issues of visa's and therefore staying long term in the city they know God has led them too, the cost of renting is a mayor challenge for all no doubt. Thankfully, quite a few of those that I met who had moved to join the plant had also done so with jobs, so at least they have the income coming in, even if most of it does go straight back out again in rent.
As for the meeting itself, there was a real feel of the Spirit there, with prayers, words and prophecy all brought during the worship time. I enjoyed singing in French too, helped by some of the songs being ones I already knew in English.
There were three visitors in the meetings, not counting myself and two others from England visiting for the weekend. They don't properly advertise yet, as they are waiting for the authorities to rubber stamp the change of name, and yet people are coming, always a healthy sign for any church.
I spent my Sunday lunch with a young family who had moved from Leeds only about 5 months before, and it was great to meet them, encourage them and hear their story a little. They are making great in-roads with their neighbours.
They then drove me back through the city, showing me some of the sights in the process. Much of the city, especially along the river, reminds me of home, and I'm sure that's because so much of St Petersburg was based on Paris. That brought me back to the Tee's 5th floor flat, from which you could see the beam of light that spins around the Eiffel Tower at night, though the Tower itself, I was told, was only visible from the top floor.
Their flat, in a nice (& expensive therefore) part of the city over looks a park, which the RER train line runs through the middle. On Sunday morning the park was full of joggers, running in ones, twos and threes around the 1 mile outer footpath. There is a lake there also, and a waterfall, as I was to discover on a walk there on Monday morning, before I needed to get the train.
I pulled myself away from the park in fact - my thoughts were taking me to that rather unhelpful place that says "How Idyllic!" There is certainly something attractive with me about the thoughts of going jogging in the park & cycling around the city. But one can never forget where God wants you to be and in fact St Petersburg, if not the cycling, does offer most of the things Paris offers, if in its own style.
In conclusion - Both are big, sprawling cities, but Paris is very certain on it's centre and therefore what isn't Paris, while St Petersburg is very much all one city, with most people living on the edges and using the transport system, which must be the cheapest in Europe for any major city, to connect itself with the centre. Both are international, but its nice to see that in both churches it's the nationals, the 'locals', that make up most of the church. And in both settings there are capable nationals, able to step into, and in time take over, the local leadership of the churches.
The French do speak English, though want to speak French. So for CVV being one language works (especially when the leadership and most of the core team have very good French already). St Petersburg is very different in this area. I have said, though it'll be hard to actually know for sure, that if Hope Church only worked in Russian, we might see some of our Russian numbers dropping, as certainly for the student aged Russians, eager to practise and hear native English spoken, having the bilingual setting is actually a draw for them, as well as helping any internationals we might pick up on the way, who would struggle if it was all just in Russian.
But in Dublin, and now Paris, I've seen two other sides, two different shades to what makes a city church, and while I've written some things down now, I know that as the weeks go by, and our return home draws nearer, there will be further things that sink in, further understandings about what Hope Church is to become.....the lessons don't stop with my return to England....the relationships can just continue...each setting learning from the others as we each outwork the local church in the local way.
I've felt greatly honoured to have been able to make these trips and see the things I've seen. It's wonderful to have had this opportunity, which I thank God for as well as the great team that has backed us so well in St Petersburg.
From now on, it's trips up and down the UK...different settings again, where I'm eager and honoured to once again learn from mission minded pioneers, working away in the places God has sent them too, each person bringing their own colour to the tapestry that is God's Global Church.
More Lord! Let me be a blessing to all I see!