"The American Church in Paris is a uniquely wonderful place to minister, worship, counsel, and to meet and make friends with people the world over."
--Rev. Ken Stenman
From Augustana to Paris
Pastor Ken Stenman
Networking happens in the Church as well as in business. Because I served as pastor of the United Christian Congregation in Stockholm from 1974 to 1979, I was given the opportunity to serve as Pastoral Assistant at the American Church in Paris.
It happened this way. The English Speaking congregation in Stockholm, Sweden, related to the Augustana Synod and the Church of Sweden. When the Lutheran Church in American came into being, the congregation in Stockholm came under the Division for World Mission and Ecumenism. I was the first pastor to be called by the DWME to serve that congregation in Stockholm.
When I returned to the States, I accepted a call to be senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Ill. After 21 1/2 years there, I retired. One of the well wishes I received was "you will find a place to serve as pastor during retirement." I questioned that. ("Oh, ye of little faith.") I did pulpit supply, served several "crisis intervention interims," but the opportunity to serve as a pastor at the American Church Paris fulfilled the "prophesy" that I would serve as pastor during my retirement.
The American Church in Paris is the oldest American Protestant congregation on foreign soil; it began over 150 years ago. It is in its third location, a cathedral-type facility on quai d-Orsay on the Seine River. It is between the Eiffel Tower and the d' Orsay Museum. The facility has a beautiful sanctuary with stained glass windows, two of which are Tiffany Windows (the only two in Europe.) Under the sanctuary is a gymnasium. There is a courtyard between the sanctuary and the church house. There are six apartments for the staff and classrooms for Sunday School and two pre-schools, counseling, education and other activities for the church member and for the Franco American Community. It has been estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 people pass through the facilities each day.
Although named "American" it really is international and interdenominational. Over 50 different nationalities and over 30 different denominations are part of the congregation. A pastor friend of mine visited the church and said, "It felt like Pentecost." Not only is it obvious that many different nationalities are worshipping at one of the three services on Sunday, but a number of different languages and accents are heard during the fellowship time, "sounding" like Pentecost.
The American Church in Paris is a uniquely wonderful place to minister, worship, counsel, and to meet and make friends with people the world over.
My wife, Priscilla, and I went to Paris in July 2007 so I could serve as Pastoral Assistant. This position is for a retired pastor as it provides no salary, but does provide transportation to and from Paris as well as around metro Paris, for both pastor and spouse. The position includes an apartment with utilities and internet. It has a view of the Eiffel Tower from the apartment windows.
Since July 2007, I had the honor of servicing twice as Pastoral Assistant, and also twice as Interim Associate Pastor.
The Pastoral Assistant's main responsibility is to officiate at weddings. The position is a six-month term call during which time I officiated at over 100 weddings. Since French law requires a legal secular wedding prior to any wedding service in a church, these weddings might best be recognized as Blessings of a Marriage.
At least 80 percent of the weddings are couples from Japan; most of the other weddings are couples from different cultures. The weddings are Christian and officiated in English.
The wedding ministry provides financial aid to the congregation that is composed of many immigrants who have very limited income. There is a major effort to make this more than a financial activity. It is an opportunity to witness to the Christian faith. Most, if not all, the Japanese couples are not Christian. A Japanese translator is provided by the wedding agency. The Church provides a copy of the Christian Marriage Service in both Japanese and English. Also, a Japanese Bible is presented to the couples with I Corinthians 13, which is part of the service, and I John 4:19 marked.
Each Pastoral Assistant has the opportunity to share with the Japanese couples before the service. I personally used the stained glass windows saying they tell the story of God, and God is Love. Because they are in love it is appropriate to be there. One pastor who watched the service in preparation to be a Pastoral Assistant called it "Christianity 101."
The non-Japanese weddings are for couples who speak and understand English, so there is an opportunity to meet with the couples prior to the wedding. During that time, there are ample opportunities to witness.
Pastoral Assistants also take part in Sunday worship and perform other pastoral acts as agreed upon at staff meetings. Generally, there is an opportunity to preach two or three times during that six month period. It is an overwhelming privilege to proclaim the Gospel in that setting from a pulpit from which Martin Luther King, Jr. and other well-known theologians have preached.
I found that just being part of the worship in reading the texts or praying was an overwhelming emotional experience. It was so easy to worship even as you tried to focus on your responsibility. The music at the American Church in Paris, choir and vocal and musical instrumentalist soloists, as well as congregational singing, lifts one's spirit.
A unique experience was the American Church in Paris sponsoring a commemoration of 9/11 on Sunday, September 11, 2011. It began at the Statue of Liberty, which is 1/5th the size of the one given to the U.S. by France, and is located on an island in the Seine. Leaders from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious communities led the commemoration there, and continued with a discussion and dialogue in the nave of the American Church in Paris.
Yes, that person was right in saying that in my retirement I would find a place to be a pastor. What I have experienced is a blessing far beyond anything I could have imagined. I am most grateful for the opportunity and privilege I had.
Visit the ACP website at: www.acparis.org