|345: Church of Reconciliation, Taizé, France|
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Mystery Worshipper: Frere Rocher.
The church: Church of Reconciliation, Taizé, France.
Denomination: All of them.
The building: Started life as a basic church and has been subsequently enlarged and added to in the best historical Christian tradition. The church is divided up by big screens. You sit down in this huge place and then when things start getting crowded there's a loud buzz and, looking round, you see the building double in size.
The church: About 100 brothers live at Taizé full time and they sit in the middle aisle, separated from the rest of the congregation by a low hedge (yes, a hedge). The congregation varies in size (hence the adaptable building) from a couple of hundred in the winter to over 4,000 in August.
The neighbourhood: One of the most scenic and tranquil parts of Burgundy, about 20 minutes drive from Cluny (which was the centre of Christian religious life at the turn of the first millennium).
The cast: Br. Roger, the founder of the community, spoke very briefly. Worship was led by the brothers, but it was often impossible to see exactly who was leading, as everything came through the sound system. There was a strong sense that the real leader was the Holy Spirit (quite right, too). There was no sermon.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
It felt very full, although it could accommodate twice as many as were there. There were about 2,500 of us, mostly under 30, from 68 different countries.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, when we arrived at Taizé we were welcomed by Br. Paulo and then later by others. There was no welcome to the church as it was really my church as much as anybody else's. However, some people are asked to stand at the door and encourage worshippers to enter in silence.
Was your pew comfortable?
Sort of we all sat on the floor. Those who arrived 20 minutes early could sit on benches at the sides or find a rare space with a pillar to lean on. Those who arrived half an hour early could grab kneelers nearer the front, which were quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reverential, certainly. They never quite achieved complete silence before and after services, but there was no doubt we were on holy ground.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
There were none. We started with singing the famous Taizé chants, which came up on display boards.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Songs from Taizé, a sheet with a few more chants, an A4 sheet with the Psalm in various languages and an A5 sheet with the New Testament reading in French and English.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ (very subtly) for the Psalm and a classical guitar and possibly a violin for some of the chants.
Did anything distract you?
I'd never realized Polish women were quite so beautiful. Between that and a stiff back from sitting on the floor, it's a wonder I could worship at all, but I did.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Completely unique. It was very deep and meditative without becoming emotionally monochrome. It's hard to describe, but I felt everything from a deep longing to know God to a deep joy about what God has done through Jesus Christ.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There wasn't one, although Br. Roger addressed a prayer to the Holy Spirit. That must have been less than 30 seconds. The silence that preceeded it was about 10 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
I don't think I can grade prayer, but Br. Roger is quite a phenomenon. Here is a man who longs for God and yet clearly knows God. That longing for oneness is in the heart of God too.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Pretty much all of it, but for me the most powerful bit was when we sang a Polish chant, Wyslawiajcie Pana (Praise our God and Saviour). When I thought of how much the Polish Church has suffered and heard this song full of joy and praise and life, it reduced me to tears.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Right at the start of the service I rested on my elbows to ease my back. I was very upset to be leapt upon by a very officious person who told me that I wasn't allowed to lie down. The service hadn't even begun. I suppose his pushyness was the result of only just being given the job, but it jarred rather sharply with the incredible sense of God's loving acceptance of each one of us that pervaded not just the church but the whole site.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The singing continued long after the service officially ended (which was when the brothers left). Everyone else just left when they felt like it. There were priests available to talk to if you wanted. I was greatly helped by a Franciscan from California called Larry, who turned out to be a guest himself.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any, but the cafe ("Oyak") was open and buzzing late into the night.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10. It was heaven on earth. This was my first time at Taizé and I was only there a week. I would like to spend a longer period there, but I'm not sure they want people over 30.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. It put me in touch with my faith, my relationship with God, in a way I haven't known for a long time. I will definitely return.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I came away from Taizé with an incredible inner peace. I think that was the fruit of the whole experience, rather than any one event. Just being there with so many people from so many places, being in the crowd and yet completely known and loved by God for who I am. Nothing can beat that.