BEFORE ACCEPTING A CALL TO MINISTRY at
Plymouth-Trinity United Church in Sherbrooke,
Quebec, Samuel Dansokho had a question. Was
the Anglophone congregation open to inaugurating a French-language ministry? The answer was
a definite “Yes.” Indeed, the search committee
wanted to call someone bilingual for that reason.
Ann Fowlis, who chairs the congregation’s
board, says there was a need. “While some
French-speaking people came to the English ser-
vice on a regular basis, some had come once but
Francophone ministry began to take shape early
in 2015 when the board authorized Dansokho to
implement a French service.
Today, there is a Sunday morning French-language worship service as well as a prayer meeting
and Bible study. People from a variety of cultures
and backgrounds attend and members take turns
leading worship and other group activities.
From the beginning, the board and the minister shared
the vision of having one congregation with two linguistic
groups. “I wanted each group to have its own linguistic
identity but to recognize that both are part of the same
ministry,” Dansokho says.
Worshipping together is important to creating a sense
of belonging to one community. People who attend the
French-language service at 9:00 on Sunday are encouraged to stay on for the English service at 11:00.
Carno Tchuani Jiembou is a member of the Francophone group. The young doctoral student found his
way to Plymouth-Trinity before Dansokho was called to
serve the congregation. The warm welcome he received
from the congregation encouraged him to keep coming
until the French-language ministry began. Jiembou now
attends both services.
“By hearing the message first in French, it is easier for
me to follow the English service,” he says.
The presence of the Francophones at the English ser-
vice is appreciated. Florence Bukam, also a Ph.D. student,
says that when Francophone attendance dropped off in
the spring, people were disappointed. “I had to explain
that our group is mainly students, and they were in the
exam period,” she says. “I told them that attendance
would pick up again in September.”
Bukam, who is an ordained minister of the Église
Évangélique de Caméroun, has been participating in
UCW events, including fundraising dinners, and prayer
and meditation gatherings. “Even though the language is
a challenge, I have attended everything,” she says.
Fowlis wants the two groups to become one
family: “I hope that the ‘newcomers’ can feel part of
Small steps can do a lot to create a sense of being part of
one community, such as inviting the two groups to gather
together for meals. This fall, the congregation’s board
has decided to start bilingual communion services once
a month, followed by a common meal.
It will be important to take time first to hear what each
community understands by a “common meal,” Dansokho
notes. He knows from experience that terms like “
potluck” can create confusion.
Participation by Francophones in the English classes
offered by Anglophone members of the congregation
has made conversation over coffee easier. It reduces the
fear among Anglophone members who were concerned
about “being taken over by French,” Dansokho says. He
regrets that a similar offer by Francophones to teach
French has not yet had any response.
Looking to the future, Fowlis has dreams. “I hope that
we can not only worship together, but that we can work
together on education, outreach, and projects and share
in the operations of a pastoral charge.”
Kristine Greenaway is responsible for United Church ministry in French.
by Kristine Greenaway
Carno Tchuani Jiembou at a United Church event