We met in a few rooms under flats, between a corner shop and a massage parlour on the Rue de la Servette. A few signs indicated its location.
Action Biblique is an evangelical missionary work which began in 1907 with the aim of distributing the Bible. It gave rise to the Bible Society of Geneva, and to the Action Biblique association of local churches in Switzerland, France, Brazil, Bolivia, Ivory Coast, Portugal and Italy, numbering some 50 churches in all. The church in Servette was founded in 1978. According to one of the elders, as this is a city centre church, there is a fair amount of turnover. The congregation seems ethnically diverse, with a mix of young families and older couples. The church has a number of midweek groups, including a youth group, young adults group, and neighbourhood groups (some of which are weekly) which meet for prayer, Bible study, fellowship and communal meals. There are also groups for women and men.
Servette is the neighbourhood around Geneva’s main train station. This is a busy area, and not as picturesque as other parts of the city. Opposite the church is a large Salvation Army nursing home.
The pastor led, one of the elders preached, a small worship band led the music.
What was the name of the service?Culte de 10h, ‘Service at 10am’.
How full was the building?
Despite the pastor saying that there were fewer people than usual, it seemed packed to the rafters from what I could tell. The hall would have seated around 150.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The elder’s wife greeted me at the door and offered me a cup of coffee. She was even kind enough to nip next door and buy some milk. I then chatted to the elder while I drank my coffee.
Was your pew comfortable?
A padded chair. 6/10 for comfort.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Lots of folk catching up and chatting before hastily getting to their seats as the service began.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Bonjour à chacune et chacun. Notre culte va commencer. Je vous invite à prendre vos places. ‘Hello everyone. Our worship is about to begin. I invite you to take your places.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The lyrics to the hymns and the Bible verses cited in the sermon were projected on two screens. I took a copy of the Bible from the shelf at the back. It was the French Segond 21 translation.
What musical instruments were played?
The worship band consisted of two vocalists, an electric-acoustic guitar, an electric bass, keys and (in the second part of the service) a cajon played by the elder.
Did anything distract you?
There were a fair amount of fussy toddlers until they were dispatched to Sunday School. A very pleasant distraction was a family to my right who seemed to have co ordinated their outfits in cheerful blue and yellow.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly bog-standard evangelical fare. No hands were raised above the mid-chest at any point. An extended sermon was bookended by hymns and prayers, including a time of open prayer for the whole congregation to join in.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 — He was no Billy Graham, but he knew his Bible and spoke with a lot of love.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Focusing on John 15:1-16, he discussed how we can rest in God’s love and enjoy the privilege of coming close to him. It was a very thorough exegesis of the passage. Though I didn’t agree with it in its entirety (the church follows a Reformed theology), I appreciated the thoroughness, as well as the humility of the elder, who admitted his own shortcomings.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At one point, the elder asked when was the last time we sat and studied at Jesus’ feet. It was a welcome reminder of how I’ve been neglecting my Bible study recently.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was a man in front of me who kept scratching his bum. Enough said.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The man sitting next to me immediately shook my hand and asked my name. Hearing I was an English speaker, he told me about his time at university in America, and gave me some welcome advice on where to cool off on a Sunday afternoon in Geneva.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee I had before the service was excellent – and free!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 — I felt very welcome at this open, loving, city-centre church. However, I don’t share their theology or worship tradition. I wish them all the best, however.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
At many points, yes. It was a nice morning spending time with people and with God.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Hopefully, the call to study at the feet of the master, and not the man scratching his bum. Time will tell.