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Justice

forgiveness • peacemaking • reconciliation
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Justice

How to Pray With Taizé

May 18, 2017 by

Let me describe my first Taizé prayer service for you: Imagine a Gothic Victorian church in the city center of Birmingham, England. Double-decker city busses, cars, vendors, and shoppers create the clattering din expected at any shopping mall, but inside the church everything is dim and hushed. Pews have been moved to the sides and carpets rolled out in their place.

As you enter “St Martin in the Bull Ring” you are met by Taizé volunteers holding signs that read “Silence Please.” All conversation stops. You join the mass of young people sitting on the floor; they nod and silently move over to make room, as almost 1,000 people manage to find a place to sit or kneel. Aside from the occasional click from a professional photographer, you see very few phones or cameras.

A prayer session at Taize
Photo courtesy of David Ash

Then, on cue from a violin, we all start singing. The songs are in Latin, French, Polish, and English, but always simple and repetitive. Everyone knows them. After twenty minutes of singing, there is a long period of silence. A short Bible passage is read in several different languages, and then more singing. There is no official end to the service; after a certain song, some participants find their way out of the church, while others remain in prayer. A choir keeps singing, and sometimes continues singing for several more hours.

* * *

Taizé is a buzzword in Europe, at least among many young Europeans looking to encounter God away from the stagnancy of institutionalized Christianity. Founded in 1940 by twenty-five-year-old Brother Roger, this ecumenical monastic community in the small French town of Taizé is now a place of pilgrimage and prayer. The little community of only one hundred brothers hosts tens of thousands of young people each year, for a day, a week, or even several months. Visitors join in the community’s daily life of reflection, discussion, and prayer. For some, Taizé is an oasis of peace and silence. For others it connotes a method of worship. But mostly, with its distinctive prayer meetings, Taizé has become a network of church community that many young people have, to varying degrees, claimed as their own.

It was to such a gathering that I travelled with three other young people from the Bruderhof, at the invitation of the brothers from Taizé, to participate in a workshop on Christian community living. The theme of the weekend was the celebration of the hidden ways Christians actively live out their commitment to Christ. The 500 attendees joined workshops focused on topics such as the global arms trade, homelessness, prison ministry, asylum seeking, and finding a vocation.

The author participating in a meeting at Taize
Photo courtesy of Matthew Neville

Our workshop was well attended and participants peppered us – and the other panellists from various local Christian communities – with questions. I was grateful to move beyond the often-routine FAQs about community life to difficult and soul-searching questions none of us was really able or qualified to answer adequately: “Is everyone called to live in community?” “If community is a commandment of Jesus, why are not more people living it?” “How do you balance communal living and mission to those outside the community?”

But central to the gathering – and the drawing card of the weekend - were the Taizé prayer meetings described above. It was these prayers, rather than the workshops or other social activities, that everyone seemed to look forward to.

There was something invigorating about this particular group of young people gathered in Birmingham. Why would so many members of a supposedly apathetic demographic spend a long holiday weekend travelling across Europe to be part of a prayer gathering? Many had bought tickets early in the year or had worked overtime to have one or two days off. And for many participants, this was not just the second or third Taizé event, but the fifth, sixth, or tenth one they had attended.

I asked some what drew them, year after year. The answer was the same almost every time: the silence and space to pray; the sense of community with others who came with the same purpose. Different words and different languages, but all variations of the same themes: community, unity, prayer.

Knowing that there are many young people in Europe actively looking for genuine ways to express their faith encourages me. For most of my new friends from Birmingham, this focus might translate into meeting once or twice a week for Taizé-style song, silence, and prayer. For others it has taken a more radical form of pooling accommodations, time, or income. But for all, the experience of Taizé seemed to go beyond the physical place, and as we said our farewells and parted ways, each of us took home a new boldness to continue with our lives of discipleship.


Darlene Maendel lives at the Darvell Bruderhof in East Sussex, England.

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  • With the brutal attack and killing of the founder of the TaIZE community, it should be clear that God`s providence centred on Community is over and that the time of Families has started living inter-dependantly, co- prosperous with mutual universally shared values has started (FFWPU CIG)

    Frans B. de Jong