Catholics have started holding occasional masses in English in an area of France popular with Britons, with around 20 people attending.
It is the first time in recent years that English masses have been held in south Charente and the move comes after a number of requests.
'It is always easier to pray in your own language'
Père Benoît Lecomte, priest of Barbezieux and rural dean for the area, who organised the masses, said: “It is always easier to pray in your own language. I thought the first mass went well and I am sure that we will continue to celebrate mass in English as long as people are interested.”
Services are open to everyone but usually only confirmed Catholics can take communion. An agreement allows people confirmed into the Anglican Church to take communion if the officiating priest approves – something which has not yet arisen in South Charente, said Père Lecomte.
Anglicans have had an active presence in France, and in what is now the Nouvelle Aquitaine region, for many years, with a chaplaincy of Aquitaine first established in 1825.
The Rev Tony Lomas, area dean for south-west France and the Vendée, who organises 32 churches, said: “We are very happy that people are able to worship and get together,” he said.
“We have occasional services in French, so you could say things are now a bit more equal.” In the Charente, services led by lay readers are held occasionally in the Protestant temple in Barbezieux, but the department is currently without an ordained Anglican priest able to hold communion services.
There are six active Anglican congregations in the Dordogne department, one in Bordeaux, five in Lot-et-Garonne, and two in the Gers. Services are held in English and led by clergy, lay readers or congregational worship leaders.
France as a whole is now an archdeaconry, one of seven in Europe, and part of the Anglican Diocese in Europe, headed by the Bishop of Gibraltar, the Rt Rev Dr Robert Innes, who is based in Brussels. The Anglican church in France has the legal status of a 1901 association.
A new archdeacon for France, the Rev Canon Dr Peter Hooper, has been appointed and is working from the UK until he can move here.
There are 26 French chaplaincies, equivalent to parishes in England, covering a number of congregations, listed on the archdeaconry’s website.
Rev Lomas said the Church of England had agreements with both the French Catholic Church and the Protestant congregations.
In French, the term église is now used almost always to designate a Catholic church, while Protestant churches are given different names.
“They see us as a strange mix as, theologically, the Anglican church is both Catholic and Reformed, which helps give us a mediating role.
“It has happened that we have been asked to officiate at weddings of mixed Catholic and Protestant couples as we cause the least offence.”
Problems faced by the Church include keeping in touch with congregations, especially elderly people vulnerable to Covid, who have felt unable to attend Sunday services in person. It has launched online services.
Uncertainty about how Brexit will affect the Church
Some congregations have a high percentage of second-home owners, who are now limited in the time they can spend in France each year.
It has an agreement with the Foreign Office to help British residents with their titres de séjour. “Our aim is to be of use to the whole British community in France, not just to those who go to church,” said Rev Lomas.