The American Church in Paris….a history

The American Church in Paris is the first American church established on foreign soil. We are an inter-denominational, Protestant congregation with roots dating back to 1814.

Our beginnings may be traced to the needs of American Protestants living in France in 1814, who sought a place to worship God in their native English language.

The first worship service was held in the apartment of an American merchant, and in 1815 the French Reformed Church opened the doors of its church, the Oratoire du Louvre, to these Americans, providing a place for them to hold regular services.  People of all nationalities and denominational backgrounds were welcome to worship.

In 1839, a new American missionary organization, the American and Foreign Christian Union (AFCU), (http://www.afcubridge.org) was formed when three separate mission agencies merged. Today the AFCU includes ACP alumni who volunteer their time and energy to serve as a board of trustees, to participate in the selection of the senior pastor, and to support the church through efforts to build the endowment.

In 1857, the AFCU asked Dr. Edwin Kirk, a Presbyterian minister, to go to Paris to help the congregation become officially organized and find a permanent home. That year, the congregation chartered the American Chapel in Paris and purchased a site for a church building to be built on rue de Berri.

In 1923, when Dr. Joseph W. Cochran came to Paris with his family as the new pastor, he found that the church building on rue de Berri was not only in desperate need of major repairs but was too cramped for the growing congregation. Through Dr. Cochran’s vision, plans for construction of our present church on quai d’Orsay began.

Since the end of World War II, the American community in Paris had become increasingly diverse, and the number of English-speaking people of other nationalities has significantly increased. Today, no more than half of the regular worshippers at the American Church are American, with the other half coming from some 40 different countries of origin. The number of denominational backgrounds is equally diverse, so that now, more than ever before in its history, the American Church is an international and interdenominational community of faith.

The American Church in Paris is deeply rooted in the history of this city. It has been a living community of faith through all the major events of the past two centuries. Many people have found a spiritual home here and have been deeply engaged with the larger community of Paris in a wide variety of ministries and services.

Some interesting historical markers:

  • Woodrow Wilson attended services regularly during the World War I peace conference
  • Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower worshipped at the ACP
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from the pulpit after winning the Nobel Peace Prize
  • Daniel Berrigan, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and James Baldwin attended student meetings at ACP in the 1960s
  • The first American Boy Scout Troop in Europe was formed out of the ACP Sunday School
  • ACP participated in the founding of the American High School and American College in Paris
  • ACP celebrated the Commemoration Service in memory of the victims of September 11, 2001 and former President Jacques Chirac was in attendance.
  • Rev. Jesse Jackson preached at the ACP in 2007 and 2009
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