Two French Protestant churches have agreed to start discussions with the aim of creating a united denomination by 2013 bringing together Reformed and Lutheran Christians.
"The French religious landscape has become very complex", said the Rev. Marcel Manoël, president of the national council of the Reformed Church of France (ERF). "That complexity makes communication difficult."
A joint May 17-20 meeting of the ERF synod and that of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of France (EELF) in Montbéliard in eastern France voted almost unanimously to start a three-year process of discussions at the local level about the idea of unification, before proceeding to the next step.
Both the Reformed and the Lutheran traditions trace their roots back to the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th century.
The Rev. Joël Dautheville, president of the executive council of the Lutheran church, said: "The message of the Reformation is still relevant to today's world."
Still, the idea could face opposition from within the Lutheran minority, especially in the Paris region, observers say. The Reformed church has 300 000 members while the Lutheran church accounts for 36 000 people.
"There is no question of the big Reformed brother gobbling up its smaller Lutheran sister," Manoël told journalists at the synod meeting.
The projected union would not apply in the Alsace-Lorraine region of eastern France, which has separate church structures. There, the Lutheran and Reformed denominations created a Union of Protestant Churches in 2006.