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It has been nearly 60 years since Encompass World Partners first acquired the Chateau in Saint-Albain, France. Despite being located in a de-Christianized country, we utilized it as a Christian retreat center with the purpose of facilitating encounters with God.
This ancient structure has a long history within religious circles. It was built in the 14th century by the Bishop of Macon with four towers surrounding a chapel to symbolize the power of the Catholic church. A group of Protestant Christians known as the Huguenots briefly took it hostage during the religious wars in the 16th century but were then driven out by Catholic troops.
During the French Revolution, 400 men lashed out against the Catholic church by plundering the Chateau and destroying three of its towers. It later became a Schweitzer family estate which produced Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Schweitzer, two influential 20th-century thinkers with strong opinions on faith, religion, and God.
When Tom and Doris Julien led Encompass in purchasing the property in 1964, it became a new creation. Instead of being a site of religious violence, it became a place of peace. Tom wanted it to feel more neutral than a church so that secular people could enter and encounter the living God. For this reason, the Chateau was often described as a “bridge.”
…people could enter and encounter the living God.
With that vision, the Chateau became a venue for all kinds of outreach initiatives, Bible seminars, youth camps, weddings, and baptisms. It even birthed Editions Clé, a publishing house that produces Bible study tools for the French-speaking world. For nearly 60 years, this neutral space allowed people from all walks of life to cross paths, meet, have exchanges, receive training, and to discover more about God.
The Chateau started as a place of gathering, but grew into a place of sending. God used the facility and its staff to establish new points of light that eventually became churches in the surrounding regions of Montceau-Les-Mines, Le Creusot, Mâcon, Chalon, Dijon, and Lyon. These churches have grown and multiplied into the Charis Alliance of France and Europe. Now all of these churches are extending spiritual bridges even further than the Chateau could have done.
By 2022 the region’s surrounding churches were thriving, so Encompass’s Board of Directors made the difficult decision to bring the Chateau’s ministry to its conclusion. The Chateau had successfully accomplished its mission, and now the baton was ready to be passed to the many churches it had helped plant. Even without the Chateau, its mission of relational ministry would continue to be accomplished—in even greater ways than before. As Charis Alliance churches are multiplying and new leaders are rising up, the Chateau will always remain in our hearts as a beautiful symbol of their mission.
…the Chateau will always remain in our hearts as a beautiful symbol of their mission.
On the weekend of 15 April 2023, over 300 people came from all over the world to celebrate the Chateau’s 59 years of fruitful ministry. They celebrated with lots of good food, festive activities, and stories of the Chateau’s impact. Tom Julien’s children, Terry and Jacqueline, spoke about the Chateau’s meaning to them when they were children. The town’s mayor even thanked Chateau staff for being so hospitable throughout the decades. Dan Hammers, one of the first Chateau workers said, “It could have been a funeral, and it was truly a celebration.” We’re overwhelmed with gratitude for all the passion, energy, and sacrifices that went into making this property such a safe place for building relationships and sharing the gospel.
“It could have been a funeral, and it was truly a celebration.”
God produced so much fruit through the Chateau, and Encompass is grateful to have been a part of it. Although we’ll always look back fondly on the Chateau, we’re reminded that it was but one small building block in the larger mission of expanding God’s family. When Encompass acquired the Chateau a spirit of relational ministry was born, and now that spirit is maturing, thriving, and multiplying. We can’t wait to see how God continues to carry it so much further beyond the beautiful stone walls where it originated.
Jesus, please use everyone who was impacted by the Chateau to continue carrying out its mission of relational ministry!
Read more in this Charis Connect article written by Encompass Executive Director-Elect, Mike Yoder.