Brother Matthew from the ecumenical community of Taizé in France is heading to Aotearoa to share the Taizé traditions of contemplative prayer and reconciling community life.
Brother Matthew – a Taizé brother who grew up in the Church of England – will make a pilgrimage to Wellington, Auckland and Dunedin to lead worship with local churches, offer ecumenical workshops on the Taizé approach to worship and living in community, and visit social outreach ministries.
The ecumenical Community of Taizé was founded by Swiss Protestant Roger Shutz (Brother Roger) during World War II when it served as a safe house for people fleeing persecution and conflict.
After 1945 the community began to welcome war orphans from war-torn France and in the early 1960s young people started to visit Taizé from across Europe and further afield, taking up the opportunity to build on their Christian faith and promote relationships of peace and understanding.
“When he was very young, [Brother Roger] had already had the intuition that a life in community could be a symbol of reconciliation, a life that becomes a sign.” writes Brother Alois, head of the community today.
“This is the primary vocation of Taizé, to be what he called a “parable of community”, a small but visible sign of reconciliation.”
Today the values of unity and reconciliation are upheld in the life and worship of the community, whose songs and prayers are used by Christians across the globe, including by churches of many traditions in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Brother Matthew will lead a retreat on the Christian call to hospitality at the Home of Compassion in Wellington from 15-17 November, then lead a 5pm musicians’ workshop on the music of Taizé, and a 7pm service of prayers, music and silence at St Peter’s Willis Street on 17 November.
He will be in Auckland on Tuesday 19 November, where he will lead 7pm evening prayer in the style of Taizé at Holy Trinity Cathedral, followed by Bible study on the Taizé community’s 2019 theme of hospitality.
South Islanders will welcome Brother Matthew to Dunedin on Wednesday 20 November, where he will lead musicians’ and young peoples’ workshops, midday prayer and then evening prayer at All Saints’ Church in Dunedin North Anglican Parish.
For more information you can see the whole pilgrimage programme (which will be regularly updated) on the Taizé website.
Meet Brother Matthew of Taizé
In preparation for his pilgrimage, Brother Matthew of Taizé spoke to Julanne Clarke-Morris from Anglican Taonga about his journey toward the Taizé community, and what he believes their particular charism has to offer young people and the wider church.
What drew you to the Taizé community and its way of life?
I grew up in a Christian family, but only when I went to university did I really meet other young believers. With them, we were searching for ways to live the gospel in daily life. One of them suggested we go to Taizé during the first summer holidays. It was cheap, so we went!
Immediately, I was struck by the simplicity and depth of the worship, the open atmosphere which enabled us to share our deepest questions with other young adults, and the fact that the brothers were there, but weren't keeping an eye on us all the time.
Later I returned to Taizé for several weeks, with the words of Jesus "Come and follow me" in my heart. As I got to know them I realised that the brothers came from many different denominations. The brothers' life together suddenly hit me as profoundly true to the gospel – in John 17 Jesus prayed for his disciples to be as ‘One,’ and I realised that if we truly speak of a God of love, then we must also love each other as Christians.
After I spoke with one of the brothers I decided to take a year free from my studies to try and understand what God was asking of me. That year has very quickly become 33 years!
What can Taizé offer to young adults at this time in history?
We live such compartmentalised lives today. The life in Taizé, rooted in the monastic tradition, unifies prayer and work, solitude and community which leads to a wholeness lived in the presence of God and with other people. Our times of worship, at morning, midday and evening punctuate the day and give it rhythm, enveloping everything we do in prayer.
As we enter into the rhythm of prayer – and the initial feelings of enthusiasm, of sensation, perhaps subside – then we begin to rest in God's presence and learn to patiently wait upon God.
Often today, it is what we feel right now that counts, but when we experience prayer regularly it centres us in God and helps us understand that the Holy Spirit is working in us – whether or not we feel something of God’s presence.
Many young adults are struck by the simplicity of the worship in Taizé, with our simple songs that use a few lines of Scripture repeated over and over again. You don't need to thumb through the hymn book all the time, which means these songs are easy to learn and lead our hearts into worship.
Then when we sing in different languages during the international meetings in Taizé, our songs open a window onto the universality of the Church and create the space through which the Word can enter into our hearts.
How is Taizé prayer different from what young people may have experienced in church before?
In Taizé, no-one leads worship from the front, and the brothers sit in a central area in the body of the church with the young people around them. There are no announcements during services and we preach outside times of prayer, so the only words in worship are Bible readings, prayers and songs.
We decorate the front of the church very simply, with lots of candles, coloured fabric, greenery and icons. This creates a focal point for contemplation as we direct our worship toward God. We are not looking at each other, or at a worship leader or group, instead we are together in the presence of God.
The singing – which is very meditative and not emotionally forced – binds the assembly together. Though the brothers lead the songs everyone joins in and you immediately get the feeling of belonging to the community, of being included.
At the heart of the service, after the Bible reading, we hold a long time of silence. We rarely speak about this part of the prayer. Each person must find for themselves how to enter into it. For many young people it is a real discovery, that we can be before God in silence – as we are – without the need for words.
Finally there is no formal ending to the worship. People stay as long as they want to keep singing and praying, even after the brothers have left.
How do people respond to the experience of Taizé?
Most young people come to Taizé for a full week. During that week, it can be very beautiful to see how young people discover the importance of prayer as something they seek to implement in their daily lives.
We also encourage them to try and deepen their commitment to their local church communities, which isn't always easy. But visiting Taizé, with this very accessible form of worship and experience of community life, often leads young adults to take on responsibilities in their own churches and for some a sense of calling becomes apparent.
Brother Roger was always very clear that we should not try to set up a structured movement around the community. If people wish to continue praying with the songs from Taizé when they return home, then we believe that should not replace a commitment to their local church life.
How can young Anglican activists, churches, young people's groups or individuals tap into the spiritual resources of Taizé?
Look at our website! There are many resources on it, including:
Churches in Aotearoa that worship in the style of Taizé are listed on our website here.
And even if Aotearoa New Zealand is a long way away, we are always happy to welcome people to come and stay at the community in Taizé in France.