After 18 months of planning and even more months of dreaming, 21 youth, young adults, and leaders in the Central Texas Conference went on a journey to France for 10 days for the Bishop’s Pilgrimage to Taize. Young people were chosen based on an application and essay process. The intention of the trip was to develop young leaders through prayer, spirituality, and education. It was an incredible voyage!
Our trip began at the DFW airport on Sunday morning, May 19th. We had packed, prepared, and weighed our bags to be sure that they were under the 50-pound limit. After about 30 hours of travel that included 2 flights, a lot of walking, and a bus through the French countryside, we arrived at the small town of Taize in the Burgundy region of the south of France. Taize is home to a monastery, musical style, and a religious movement. The simple chanting prayers invite thousands of young pilgrims each week to contemplation and community.
Although we were haggard and disoriented, we settled in quickly, finding our simple rooms and bunks. Evening prayers centered us to the routine of the community. Worship occurs three times per day – morning, mid-day, and evening – consists of chanting prayers, scripture, and silence. The Church of the Reconciliation is a simple building without chairs, pews, or a pulpit. The prayer services have no central leader, sermon, or bulletin. The brothers do extensive planning to make the service flow with easy. There are usually 2-3 soloists that lead the songs, one brother who changes the numbers on the LED screens indicating which song we were singing, an organist, and a keyboard player. The keyboard was a synthesizer that played guitar chords. They are recordings of an older woman who played the guitar for the community for many years. The LED screen indicates whether it is time to pray through singing or be silence.
On our first morning at Taize we experienced Eucharist. Taize is the only place in the world where Catholics and Protestants can receive communion at the same time. Non-catholics are given permission to receive and Catholics are given permission to receive. It’s unknown on any given day if the elements have been blessed by a Catholic Priest or a Protestant. This is essential in the harmony of the ecumenical community at Taize.
Day one also introduced our group to chores and small groups – two more essential elements of Taize. It is primarily young (under 30 years old) Europeans at Taize this week. There are nearly 2,500 pilgrims from over 30 countries living in community with us. Because of the incredible number of visitors, chores are vital. Each person is given a different task to accomplish from trash and bathroom clean-up to dishing and serving the food. Permanents and other longer term pilgrims make the system of training and empowering work like a well-oiled machine.
Small groups were my favorite part of our time in Taize. My small group included a working mom of 2 boys who lives South of Paris, a Catholic sister from Poland living in Germany, a young German woman who fears her English isn’t perfect, an energetic Spanish woman, and our self-appointed leader who is from Switzerland and speaks many languages. I am struck instantly how much we all have in common. Several of us are Taize novices, but even those who have attended before are questioning why God has called them back. Taize has restorative properties and fills the soul. It is peaceful and a place to completely disconnect with the rest of the world.
Our group of 21 was split based on age with the over 30 year olds sleeping in gender exclusive bunk rooms on one end of the property and under 30 year olds on the other. Chores, small groups, and meals are all divided by age. However, our group did find time to spend together during prayers, afternoon meetings, and free time. We made lots of international friends, including German roommates!
Our 11 days of pilgrimage were challenging, beautiful, frustrating, joyful, contemplative, and meaningful.