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France may be the most militantly secular country in Europe, but Paris’s gospel scene is flourishing.

The choir sways and their orange robes sway with them. The conductor, packed in an ice-cream-white suit, urging them on, while out front the Reverend Jean Carpenter – moving quite possibly like nobody has ever moved before in this ancient church in the medieval heart of Paris – sings praise to the Lord.

The person who emailed to say I should go and hear her sing described her voice in one word – “Biiiiiiiiiiig”.

She wasn’t exaggerating.

“Oh my gosh!” she cries when asked how she feels when she’s up there performing. “I want to dance! I want to sing! I want to touch everybody! I want to touch Jesus! I want to see his face! When I’m up there, I feel love.”

Not the sort of thing the French are used to hearingFrance – with its burka ban, and strict separation of church and state – is the most militantly secular country in Europe. Many people regard religion with suspicion and even the six per cent who regularly go to church are often shy of using the J-word, let alone shaking their stuff in church to praise Him.

It’s a difference in religious culture as wide as the Atlantic, which is maybe one reason gospel concerts here sometimes provoke intense reactions.

“I don’t preach, but I speak ‘Franglais’ with the people and they help me with my French,” says Jean, who hails from Queens in New York State. “I ask them if they understand and they say ‘Yes!’ And sometimes we all end up in tears. We end up touched by what comes through me and then, in essence, it touches them and then they give it back. We can have such a powerful time.”

Like the time a man who’d lost his daughter came to talk to her after the concert.

“She had died. He told me he needed prayer,” Jean recalls. “And needed someone to pray with. So we held him, we hugged him and cried with him and we found the priest of a church and we put him in contact with that church.

“That is what we are hoping to do. Not just do a show and leave. No! No! I would not have done my job if that happens.”

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