Paris is always gray in January. The morning skies are charcoal until about 10 a.m. The streets stay damp for days on end. There are occasional variations in the weather, none especially inviting. One year when I taught a January intercession here it snowed. The students and I had a snowball fight in the gardens at Versailles. I think Marie Antoinette would have approved.
This trip the rain and wind are relentless. And I have had a wet nasty cold and the kind of cough that repels people even though I am masked. I’ve taken long walks everyday but scrupulously avoided proximity to others. I’ve cancelled plans with good friends and dined on take-out soup safely distanced from my husband, Larry, who has a cough, though not as disgusting as mine. Nevermind that the soup is delicious; the trip has been a misery.
Until last night.
A poster slapped on a bus stop wall announced “Gospel Dream.” It caught our eye. Sick and tired of being sick, we decided to go. It was across the Seine at the American Cathedral in Paris on the posh Champs Elysee.
The cathedral, which began as the Holy Trinity Church, was the first American Episcopal Church outside of the United States. It has a storied history. Built in Gothic Revival style, the first service was held in 1886 for a considerable ex-pat community. Holy Trinity Church was consecrated as a cathedral circa 1923 and thereafter served a much wider community, with emphasis on those in need. During the occupation of Paris, the cathedral fell under Nazi control. A German Lutheran pastor, Rudolf Damrath, was assigned to lead the congregation, which included members of the Gestapo. Damrath struggled with his Christian faith and his duties to the occupiers. There is much written about his tenure in Paris as well as other fascinating historical details about the cathedral at: https://amcathparis.com/history
The chilly formal setting, with its massive stone pillars seemed an improbable backdrop for a gospel choir, but in short order before an audience of about 500, the literal and emotional temperature soared. The 14 singers, clad in lilac robes, burst into their rousing version of “Oh Happy Day” and had the crowd clapping and swaying. Between each number, the choirmaster delivered sermonettes, the first of which described the universality of the word Hallelujah. He asked us to say the word in unison and in ever increasing volume until we were all on our feet shouting joyously.
The repertoire included fervent pleas for Jesus’ love, comical riffs on piano, hand-clapping, foot-stomping gospels, and deep loving prayers for peace. For 90 minutes, regardless of one’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof), we were all a faithful flock.
It is not a coincidence that when I awoke this morning, my cold was much improved and a bright sun filled a cloudless sky.