Thursday, June 6, 2013

From Texas to Taizé: The Church of Reconciliation

Welcome to chapter three on my journey to Taizé with many very cool people from the Central Texas Conference, a pilgrimage led by Bishop Mike Lowry and Rev. Dr. Larry Duggins of the Missional Wisdom Foundation.  For a few words on the worship life, check out chapter 1, for a bit on living in the community, check out chapter 2.  In this chapter we'll discuss the main worship space itself, the Church of Reconciliation.

The brothers of Taizé live a life of simplicity, and compared to many of the ornate churches in Europe, the Church of Reconciliation is extremely simple.  But in living and worshiping in this space for seven days, I can tell you that describing the church as simple couldn't be further from the truth.  As I moved around the space I found that nearly every angle of the church was planned and thought out.  It's a truly amazing, organically shaped design.

As a group, we Texans decided to sit further back in general so we could all sit together.  In the photo to the left you see the hedges that outline the place where the brothers sit.  If you look closer you see a lecturn with an icon on the front from which the brothers would read the scripture for the service.  At this spot you can see the whole of the formal sanctuary.

Later in the week, my wife and I decided to be daredevils and sit closer to the front.  We arrived a half hour early for evening worship to accomplish this task - it gets very crowded towards the front (kind of the opposite of most Methodist churches).  As far as space for your personal worship goes, as there are no pews, we would find ourselves strategically placing our backpacks to allow room for at least a little movement during worship.  The closer to the front you were  the more people would jump in to the smallest area possible to get a closer seat - even if it was in your lap.

The church itself is a truly multi-purpose facility.  Throughout the back of the church there were garage doors placed as walls to divide things up into classrooms and other worship spaces.  This also served as a form of crowd control, much like larger churches that rope off sections of the pews to cram people in toward the center, as it would get closer to worship time designated brothers or volunteers would raise the doors.  There was still the occasional group of teenagers that would flock to the corners, but usually volunteers would steer people towards the front if possible.  However, if I group was near one of the plugs that were few an far between in the community, you could forget moving them.  Charging cell phones was so important.  I digress.

Pictures were highly discouraged during worship, I snuck a few, but the brothers were generous to allow the community to come in everyday from 1 to 2pm to take photos of the space, including the many icons scattered intentionally through the church and the side rooms of the church for intentional prayer.  As a United Methodist, I initially found this beautiful, but a little strange.  We came to find out through discussion that the icons were part of intentional outreach to Orthodox communities throughout Europe and Asia.  It was another instance of the intentional inclusion of other faiths by the brothers.

The most notable icon in the worship space in the painted crucifix.  A fixture of the worship, it is moved around to different areas on the chancel for the different services.  At the formal end of the evening service, it was often brought forward by volunteers to the middle of the brothers aisle as the brothers left.  It was placed there so worshipers could step forward and worship at the foot of the cross.

While the stained glass wasn't nearly as ornate as some churches we saw in Paris, there was unique attention placed on the windows of the space.  Some of the most beautiful were along the right side of the sanctuary as you face the chancel.  There's a raised area there with benches and along the concrete walls were niches with small (maybe one foot square) depictions of different Gospel events, the Magnificat, Assumption of Mary, Christ as the Sacrificial Lamb, the Nativity, the Wise Men ... There weren't many, and they were so simple.  Much like the community itself.  The worship space had this air of simplicity, but the more you got to know it you understood the prayerful and inclusive design of the place.  Every wall, every door, every angle was prayerfully conceived to help the worshiper engage with the Holy Spirit.  It was an awe inspiring place to encounter God.