Fr. Terry’s Taizé Reflections, part one
I’ve now been in the Community of Taizé for just over twenty-four hours, and I have some immediate reflections.
My first impression is how simple everything is here in the Community. Life here is completely simple on every level. The food is simple — in no way gourmet. The lodging is simple — rustic would be a closer description. I am lodged in a room with five other men over the age of 30 and even over the age of 45 (for various reasons, these are ages in which people are grouped together here). In this room there are built-in bunk beds with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling — there is no electrical outlet so that none of us can recharge our phones, laptops or ipads. There are three gatherings of the Community each day for prayer — morning, noon and evening. The prayer is so simple — the brothers enter in silence immediately before the songs begin. The brothers sit in the central aisle of the church on either prayer stools they situate under themselves or, for a few of the older brothers, on wood and cane chairs. There is no introduction nor does anyone give directions about anything before, during or after the prayer.
The singing is extremely simple — the songs are not verbally announced; rather there are electronic panels situated in various places throughout the church in which numbers appear to signal the next song to be sung. The songs are sung in one language only (French, German, Italian, Spanish, English, Latin) rather than the occasional two we at St. Andrew’s sometimes sing. The scripture readings are brief and read in two, three or four languages by brothers in the community. Other than the scripture readings, each song is sung with only a small pause before the next begins. The accompaniment is very simple with only an electronic keyboard with a piano or light string sound. Each prayer time we sing a dozen or more songs while the brothers are present. During every prayer time, there is always an extended period of silent prayer — eight to nine minutes in length. The first signal that the prayer time is at an end is when the Brothers simply begin leaving. That concludes the common prayer time together. Members of the congregation begin leaving but the singing will continue for as long as forty-five minutes longer — as long as a small group of singers remain.
The land on which the Community is built comprises several acres and sits on a sloping hillside. There are a myriad of almost entirely single storey buildings throughout the space, and, although a map is distributed with some names associated with some of the buildings, exactly what many of these buildings are for is left for each one to discover.
Yesterday morning before leaving Dijon for Taizé, I bid Theresa goodbye as she left Dijon by train to the northwest for Paris. I then left south for Macon. At the Macon train station, I learned where to catch the local regional bus to the outlying towns and villages including Taizé. The bus arrived and departed at exactly the appointed time, just like the trains we’d taken in Europe in those last two weeks. The bus trip to Taizé was 1 euro 50 centimes (under $2 US) and arrived at the Taizé Community about forty minutes later. I was met by Barb Treen of our own St. Andrew’s Taizé Community who had arrived several days before me and who will remain until Wednesday of this week. Barb, unlike myself, is staying at night a few kilometers distance from the Community in a small comfortable rented apartment which I am confident has more than a single light bulb in the ceiling.
My bunk mates include two Afrikaner South Africans, a German and a German speaking Swiss. All but one of us is an ordained pastor. The one not ordained is an architect from South Africa accompanying his pastor. They are interested in establishing something similar to the French Taizé Community as an extension of their very large church’s ministry. Their church has two thousand members and that church over the last few years has itself established thirty different affiliated church communities in neighboring areas, beginning as we have done with George in Lake City. They begin by setting up community centers which serve specific needs of the people in those neighborhoods and which also develop their own prayer and worship. The mother church continues to fund the salaries of the pastors of each of these dependent communities which are very impoverished and could never cover a pastor’s salary on their own.
As I write this, I am sitting in the now empty church with my ipad plugged into electricity and very slowly getting recharged. I must soon go to dinner with the other older adults who eat and meet together in discussion and faith sharing groups — more about these next time! But for now, I’ll try to send this message tonight or tomorrow morning when I can buy wi-fi access.
Blessings to all St. Andrew’s Taizé Community and to the mother ship, St. Andrew’s Church, as well!
Fr. Terry Steig