There is a small village a few hours’ drive from the city of Leon in France that has become known around the world for it meditative chants. This village, known as Taize, has become a place of pilgrimage for thousands of young people every month. These young people join the Religious Community in the chapel for christian prayer services seven times a day. Its prayer style involves singing chants that repeat one line of scripture. There are also long periods of silent prayer which is not typical of what many people believe “attracts” young people. Perhaps Taize is so counter cultural that is grabs the hearts and minds of the young people who visit.
Taize started after the Second World War as a prayer community for people from a range of cultures. It was symbolic for a German man, Brother Rodger, to move to France after the Second World War to begin the healing process. The prayer community soon took over the village and the centre prayer space or chapel has been expanded over the years through a serious of rooms that can be opened or close depending on the size of the gathering.
Today the meditative chants of Taize are used around the world in churches and chapels. People will gather for Christian meditation and use Taize chants to remind them that God is always communicating. Many communities will use Taize prayer regularly, however some people only use the chants once a year on retreat.
In the year 2000 I had the privilege of spending a few days at Taize. After years of singing their chants in English, it was amazing to visit this place. There are so many parts of my experience at Taize that stayed with me over the years, the biggest one being that God can use a variety of forms to reach young people. Here are five things that Taize reminds me to consider in ministry:
- Simple decoration – The decoration of the front part of the original chapel in Taize is quite beautiful but it is simple. The rest of the chapel is very basic (there are no seats) yet in this environment people encounter God. When ever I hear people in ministry talk about needing lights, dynamic PowerPoint’s and elaborate sound systems to reach young people, I remember that Taize didn’t need any of these to help people encounter God. Perhaps the move to make youth ministry events into mini rock concerts has not been as necessary as many would think.
- Simple Liturgy – One of things that struck me about prayer at Taize was that everyone transitioned between chants with ease. How can two thousand people finish a chant together without any leader? Some of our ministry events have become too “wordy” with an MC or service leader announcing every little detail. When planning your next ministry event remember some of the basic liturgical principles and reduce the announcements.
- Volunteers – everywhere I went in Taize there were young people who would volunteer to serve the rest of the people gathered. People would serve in the kitchen then others would volunteer to hand out the simple meals. There were musicians who volunteered to play during the prayer sessions even if they were there for a few days. There were a large number of volunteers who cleaned dorm rooms, showers, toilets and the chapel space. Sometime our events have a very small team doing everything because we don’t break down the tasks. Taize was very good at breaking down tasks to a manageable size and had people to show you how to help out.
- Party – After a really moving night time prayer session I remember leaving the chapel in silence, you could hear a pin drop. As the two thousand people left the chapel many moved down to the cafe and food area. Within in an hour there was singing and dancing many different languages. It is important to remember that even though Taize encouraged meditation and silence, these young people had the freedom to have an unstructured party. Remember that young people can’t be serious all the time, they need time to break out of the program into self-directed party time.
- Once off – whilst some people return to Taize several times, many people go to Taize only once in their lifetime. Sometimes in ministry we are looking for a program that we can run every week for years without changing. Taize has taught me that some great events should be used in moderation. Perhaps in your ministry you need to consider a variety of styles and use some style once or twice a year. Instead of the usual youth ministry event consider a counter cultural experience like Taize.
There were some forms of simplicity that I struggled with at Taize, especially the basic accommodation and even more basic food. But there are many things which were so out of my comfort zone that they drew me deeper into reflecting on my relationship with God. In a time where churches are moving away from doing liturgy with young people, Taize reminds me that some experiences need to be counter cultural.
So the next time you are planning to run an event for people in your church how about keeping the music and decoration simple, develop a good liturgy that doesn’t need an MC, empower people to offer their little bit as a volunteer and finish with a big party.
Please comment about how you may have used Taize in your ministry.
markoffaith, MarkofFaith, mark of faith, Mark of Faith, mrmarkmcdonald, Mark McDonald