Church organisation

Initially, Reformed Churches were not institutionalised, but as from 1555, throughout Kingdom of France, they progressively conformed to the pattern Calvin had organised in Geneva.

Community gatherings prior to the organisation of Churches

  • Reformed churches in the 16th century © Musée du Désert

Luther’s ideas were known in Paris and other French cities as early as 1520. They spread clandestinely since they had been outlawed. They were printed in France but mainly overseas. As from 1524 they were translated into French.

Around 1530 community gatherings first appeared, i.e. inconspicuous meetings at one or another’s home to read the New Testament and pray. But in order to avoid trouble, it was necessary go to Church once in a while for confession and to attend mass at least once a year, to get married, have children baptised and parents buried.

More and more numerous Reformed Churches

Calvin wanted this dual practice to stop, but many people did not dare claim they were Protestants. Calvin called them « Nicodemists », and admonished them to choose between the Reformation and Catholicism.

Travelling salesmen (pedlars) went to Geneva to obtain books and sell them in France. They would explain the contents and some likewise held short services.

The first regular Reformed Church in the kingdom of France was founded in about 1546 in Meaux, with the same structure as Calvin’s congregation in Strasbourg. That same year, the Church in Meaux was persecuted and 14 Protestants including the pastor were burnt alive.

After 1555, other Reformed Churches were established in Paris, Angers and Valence on the Geneva model and according to Calvin’s recommendations that set strict rules concerning the evangelical sacraments, namely Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The Protestants gathered to elect a council of elders called the Consistory. The Consistory appointed the pastor, watched over the members of the church, and took care of the poor. The pastor preached and administered the sacraments.

Around 1560 there were about a thousand Reformed Churches, each with an elders’ council, but not always with its own pastor. These Churches were unevenly scattered over the country. Most of them were in Southern France, Occitany, but also South of Poitiers, in the Loire Valley, and in Normandy.

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