Reminiscences from Neuchatel: Mrs M. Haldimann

Looking back over the 50 years that I have been a member of the English Church in Neuchâtel, I realise how much it has changed. When I arrived here in June 1953, we received a visit from the local Swiss pastor, who, when he realised that my French was not good enough to follow his services, gave me the Christens’ telephone number and said they would tell me about the English services. In the course of our first visit to their flat, it turned out that the young Siss I had met in the wolds of Africa 3 years before was one of their sons and they produced a photo with me standing in the front row at the foot of the ladder leading up to the original ‘Tree Tops’ hut!

The services at that time were in a small building beside the Palais du Peyrou. Not long after my arrival the Commune wanted to use it as an art gallery and offered to pay the removal costs if we were willing to move to the ‘Bibliothèque des Pasteurs’, near the Collegiate Church. That involved moving pews and kneelers, communion table and rails, harmonium and carpet. The second move to the Charmettes Chapel in the late 1960’s was much simpler as we did not need to keep the furniture. As I was responsible for playing the harmonium, I was pleased to have it replaced by an organ. We had had two harmoniums, the second only slightly less wheezy than the first; they required considerable physical effort: I certainly did not need a trainer bicycle at home.

To understand the organisation of the services up to the closure of the 4 or 5 finishing schools in the region, one must refer to the origins of the English Church in Neuchâtel. It was set up in the 19th century and financed by Swiss citizens who were afraid that parents would send their daughters to schools in Geneva if there were no English services in Neuchâtel. The chaplain came from Bern twice a month, held an evening service on Sunday, stayed overnight (usually with the King family) and then took a communion service early on Monday morning – very well attended as those who went to it missed their first lesson(s) that day. When the schools closed down the congregation dwindled. At one point when there were only 2 of my children in the congregation and myself at the harmonium, Canon Baggott decided to stop coming to Neuchâtel.

Over the years I can remember seven clergymen. The first I saw only a few times before he suddenly disappeared and it was only years later that I learned that he had taken money from the Church in Bern. It is hard today to realise how poor the chaplain was, servingBern, Basle and Neuchâtel with no car. Peter Hawker stands out as the one who transformed church-going from a duty to a pleasure. He took over the presidency of the ‘committee’ (of which the chaplain had previously not been a member) and established a church council according to the statutary requirements. Most important, he inspired everybody and shook them, thank you Peter. Two changes specially gladden my heart: the possibility of having an evening communion service and of sharing communion with members of other churches.

Miriam Haldimann