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It is believed that Celtic Gauls entered the territory of modern France between 1500 and 500 B.C. In 52 B.C. the area was conquered for Rome by Julius Caesar. By the fifth century the Franks and other Germanic tribes overran the area and established the Frankish Empire. The modern day French Republic, commonly known as France, can be traced as a political entity to the nation formed about the year 843 with the division of the Frankish Empire between the three grandsons of Charlemagne. This era was known as the Carolingian Dynasty and lasted until 987 when Hugh Capet’s election as king ushered in the 350 year Capetian Dynasty. Following the Hundred Years War the British, who held some claim on French territories, were expelled and their claims thereby eliminated. In the sixteenth century France was wracked by religious wars between the Roman Catholics and the Protestant Huguenots. These wars ended with the ascendancy of the Bourbons in 1598, a dynasty which lasted until 1715. In this era the monarchy held enormous power and a colonial empire was established. Several overseas territories are still controlled by France. The French Revolution of 1789 led to the collapse of the monarchy and the country was thrown into a period of anarchy. Into this milieu Napoleon Bonaparte came to power and eventually expanded the country by military conquest. Following his defeat at Waterloo in 1815 France again experienced an era of political instability which saw the two restorations of the monarchy which were both subsequently overthrown. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the formation of subsequent Republics, tremendous suffering during two world wars and wars in the colonies. In 1957 Charles de Gaulle assumed the presidency and worked to restore stability in France.
France is known for its many beautiful cathedrals, houses of worship and religious shrines. The religious population is approximately 90% Roman Catholic with Protestants, Muslims and people of the Jewish faith making up only small percentages. Despite the high percentage of adherents to the Roman Catholic tradition it is estimated that only five percent of the population of nearly 60 million people attend any church or own a Bible.
The earliest work of the Stone-Campbell Movement in France can be traced to the Foreign Christian Missionary Society (FCMS) and the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions (CWBM) of the American churches in the last decades of the nineteenth century. In about 1877 Jules De Launay, a Frenchman by birth and educated for the priesthood, and his wife, Annie, an English woman, presented themselves to the Foreign Christian Missionary Society for work in France. There was some hesitancy in opening a new work because of a lack of available funds and there was minor opposition to the employment of a non-American. In addition France did not have the same appeal for missionary efforts as did Africa or the Orient. However, late in 1877 the De Launays sailed for Europe and were soon established in the Latin quarter of Paris laying the groundwork for the Paris mission. At the time there was a great deal of opposition from the French government against any teaching that was not Catholic and De Launay was forced to work through these difficulties. Within the first two years he was able to build up a congregation of 350, establish a Sunday school, Young Men’s Union, a Sewing Circle and so forth. In 1879 the CWBM sent Miss Annie Crease to assist the mission for one year. Preaching extensively De Launay built up Bible classes, wrote a number of tracts, prepared a hymnal and corresponded extensively with converts. Plans were soon made to establish a second mission in another part of Paris. However, it was said the De Luanay lacked the proper leadership skills and was poor in handling the finances of the mission. These, combined with other difficulties, les to the cancellation of the Paris mission in about 1886. In Garrison and DeGroot’s extensive history of the Movement, The Disciples of Christ, they report that no lasting indigenous results were obtained, however Professor Jean Pierre LeCoq then of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa was a product of the Paris mission (The Bethany Press, 369).
In 1909 Alfred E. Seddon, an Englishman by birth, began work in France in a program called the hors-de-Rome movement. Extensive reports were published in the pages of the Christian Standard until July of 1914. After that Seddon continued to report on items of interest relative to the church both in France and around the world. Little is presently known of this movement and the work it accomplished.
Following the Second World War the American a cappella Churches of Christ began a presence in France when soldier Max Watson began meetings in Paris. Later, Maurice Hall, then living in Germany visited France and saw first hand the need for evangelization. Upon returning to the United States he recruited Melvin and Iva Anderson as missionaries to France, beginning in 1949. Others also worked in France, including Don Daugherty who made his home in Paris until his death. By 1990 there were at least twenty a cappella congregations throughout France and several more in the overseas territories of France.
In the mid-1980s Team Expansion of the American Christian Churches and Churches of Christ began to look to France as a possible new field in which to open a mission. The plan was to focus on Poitiers, a university city of 100,000 south of Paris. Poitiers was seen as a potential hub for church planting and campus ministry. Dennis and Susie Wood were early Team Expansion missionaries in Poitiers. Later missionaries included Bill and Anne-Caroline Baird, Susan Schilling, Karen Richardson, and Mike and Brenda Hanson. At present the work in Poitiers is no longer being supported by the mission activity of Team Expansion.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
For further historical reference:
The History of the Foreign Christian Missionary Society, Archibald McLean, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1919.
History of the Christian Woman’s Board of Missions, Ida Withers Harrison, privately published, 1919.
Churches of Christ Around the World, Lynn, Mac, 21st Century Christian Publications, Nashville, TN, 2003.
See the indices of the Christian Standard and the Christian-Evangelist, published by the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Nashville, Tennessee, for extensive coverage of the early work in France by both De Luanay and Alfred Seddon.
Main Web site: http://www.discipleshistory.org
Online catalog: http://voyager.discipleshistory.org
For a cappella Churches of Christ see: http://www.churches-of-christ.net/world/europe.html
For Christian Churches and Churches of Christ see: Team Expansion (below)