Rethink Church Advent Challenge Week 1

I, and many others, are joining in the Rethink Church Advent Photo-a-day Challenge, a twenty-five day photo challenge to tell your advent journey - in pictures.

It's been a fun first week, full of study, and reflection - some serious, and some not.  We also had what the DFW area would consider a blizzard, most of us have been iced in the house since Thursday night.

I you want to follow the conversation, check out the tags #rethinkchurch and #rethinkchristmas on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!

Day 1:  Go
#Advent Day 1: Let's #go. #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas

Day 2:  Bound
Day 2: For better or worse, right? #bound #rethinkchurch #rethinkchristmas

Day 3:  Peace
#rethinkchristmas day 3: candle and holder from our time in #taize, a place of immeasurable #peace #rethinkchurch

Day 4:  Time
#rethinkchurch day 4: getting there tomorrow... How much #time does God spend on future planning? #rethinkchristmas

Day 5:  Flood
#rethinkchurch day 5: the only good #flood? #rethinkchristmas

Day 6:  Awake
#rethinkchurch day 6: this cotton-headed ninny-muggins is #awake. #rethinkchristmas

Day 7:  Ready
#rethinkchurch day 7: well, we were #ready for church tomorrow but we get another #snowday instead! #rethinkchristmas

Funny Friday: #Taizé To Do's and To Don'ts

It's funny Friday again!  But not only that, it's another post about the greatest place on earth - Taizé!

It's been a week or so since I've cranked out a blog on the experience and it's been a whole lot of fun telling the story.  This is one that's been in the works since the first day.  As you can expect, a monastery in the south of France that intentionally hosts 500 to 5,000 young adults from across the planet is going to have some quirks.

Here's a dish on some of the finer experiences of travelling to Taizé.  Here are some Taizé To Do's, and some Taizé To Don'ts.

1.  Don't grab the microphones in the floor of the Church of Reconciliation.

Before worship one night we sat in our usual spot in the church to find one of the teacher's microphones left in the floor.  All the mics that the brothers used to teach and lead worship are wired directly into jacks in the floor.  When one was left out, one of my fellow Texans decided to goof around and grab it and sing in to it.  We were quite surprised to find that the mic was live!  We heard our friend quite loudly through the speakers around us ... Before he could even drop the mic on the floor one of the permanent volunteers on patrol swooped in like a silent ninja and grabbed it, chastised all of us, unhooked the mic and ran away.

It was embarrassing ... But oh, so funny.

2.   Do check the weather.

Yeah, so it was freezing while we were there.  Literally.  We checked the weather, but didn't believe it. I brought three sweaters and a hoodie with me.  I wore all of them the whole time we were there, just rotating layers to try and keep things fresh.  I even wore them to bed, people.  Yes.  So, check the weather before you go - and believe it.

3.  Do bring American medicine with you.

I got bad sick while we were there with a sinus infection.  And medicine at the community, well, it was a bit primitive.  The nurse on staff there had some of the best hospitality I've ever experienced.  But, if I'd had some Dayquil it would have nipped the whole thing in the bud.  The nurse ended up taking me and my wife into town to the pharmacy to get some medicine.  I ended up getting some kind of homeopathic antibiotic over the counter - yeah, I'm not really sure that's a thing.  But I took it and a day later I was 100% better.  Most medicine over there was of the homeopathic variety (apparently), just FYI.

4.  Don't leave Germans in charge of the windows.

So, I got sick.  It wasn't bad until our super great German roommates decided it would be a great idea to  open our windows in the middle of the coldest night of the pilgrimage.  It was below freezing, but it was "too stuffy" for them in the room with our half-time working radiator going.

We had a great chat about that the next day.  Thank God Europeans love languages and everybody knows English.  It saves lives.

5.  Don't wear nice shoes.

Just don't.  It may be France, but the place is not a fashion show.  There's mud.  And if you walk out side the community, there's a lot of livestock around.

And the best for last ...

6.  Do clean up after yourself.

See the picture above?  There was one of those delightful notes inside the door of every single stall at the community complete with a toilet brush.  The toilets in Taizé were some of the cleanest toilets in Europe.  And I say this with all sincerity.  It might actually be one of the more important aspects of hospitality in the community.  The bathrooms weren't spa quality, but they were clean.

For more on the Central Texas Conference epic pilgrimage to Taizé, check out what I've written here, and Bishop Mike Lowry's blog here.

From Texas to Taize: Morning Prayer

For the last few weeks, I've been writing a lot on my recent pilgrimage to the Community of Taizé, a neo-monastic community in the Burgundy region of France.  To read the story from the beginning, check here.

This post is of a much more practical nature, and goes out to my fellow worship and liturgy nerds.

Many of us have had the opportunity to worship in the Taizé style in our local church communities; it's a powerful style of worship with a focus on truly blending elements of scripture, prayer and song into one beautiful service of prayer.  In the community, the services are actually simply known as the 'prayers'.  There are three services each day in the community: morning before breakfast, midday before lunch, and then evening prayer.  I took the opportunity during my stay there to document one of each service in its entirety, songs and all for the purpose of sharing what the truly authentic services looked like.

While there was a lot of nuance in each particular worship service, I found that each morning, noon, and evening service had a flavor that was consistent from day to day.  The thread that connected each morning prayer was the sacrament of Holy Communion.

We should note here before we dig in that in the the community of Taizé, the communion elements are not consecrated in public.  This is done purposefully.  As this is a completely ecumenical community with brothers and pilgrims of many faith communities, to avoid any discomfort between those of the Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox faiths the elements are consecrated behind the scenes before worship so that nobody knows who consecrated the elements.  For instance, while Catholics are given special dispensation to receive the elements in Taizé, in this way it doesn't matter if the Great Thanksgiving was said by a fellow Catholic or a Baptist.  This also keeps with the traditions of the community that really has a lack of ceremony we most commonly associate with our worship.

Worship in Taizé is stripped down to the most basic element of all - building community between the Holy Trinity and we human beings here on earth.

All songs will include page numbers and texts from the 2013-2014 Taizé songbook.  I'll go ahead and include the language we sung it in, as well as the English translation.  A few times we sang in alternate translations (as a way of being inclusive of the pilgrims) but most often we sang the chants in the original (printed) language of the chant.  The chants were repeated often during the week, and if done in an alternate language, it stayed that way.  And also keep in mind - none of this was written down on a worship guide or bulletin, the only way we knew what hymn was coming next was to check the LED screens on the walls.

So, that said, here's a breakdown of Morning Prayer in Taizé!


Taizé Morning Prayers

Prelude - 10 Minutes of Carillon from the bell tower

          During this time, the brothers stroll in in their simple, white robes and take their seats.  Music began around 8:15am.  As the pilgrims also come in for worship, they're each handed a songbook, scripture reading page (with at least 5 languages, the Psalm intonation, and any supplemental chants not in the book (all in the picture above).

Veni Creator Spiritus (canon) 22
Veni, Creator, veni Creator, veni Creator Spiritus.
Come, Creator, Holy Spirit, come, Creator, Holy Spirit, come!

Psalm 103 (sung)

          This psalm was sung in a psalm tone, but a little difficult to sing along with.  So for me, I just focused on taking it in.  There was a chant on the psalm tone to begin and end the psalm that we did sing along with.

Scripture Lesson - 2nd Corinthians 1:18-22

          At this point comes one of the more interesting rituals of the community.  When worship starts everyone, including the brothers faces forward.  But at the reading of the lesson, the scripture is proclaimed from a simple lectern in the center of the church and everyone turns to face the reader.  It is quite beautiful, and a great way to respect the Word.  I've seen this done with Gospel readings in Catholic and Orthodox services, with everyone standing.  But here everyone still sits.  As stated earlier, the reading is on a handout given at the beginning of worship and is printed in at least five languages on the sheet.  It is read in at least two languages, the most common being French, German, and English.

Vien, Saint-Esprit (antiphon) 281 (from a worship handout)
Viens, Saint-Esprit, du ciel fais jaillir l'éclat de ta splendeur
Come, Holy Spirit, and from heaven shine forth with your radiant light.

          I'm choosing to call this one an antiphon, but hymn might be better.  The words translated are the refrain that the pilgrims sang and the brothers sang verses in between.  After this, everyone faced the front again.

Guiding Verse

          Frequently at specific points of the worship service a verse or phrase of the scripture reading was stated, as a point of prayer.  A sort of Lectio Divina occurrence for worship.  I didn't get this one down because it was not in English, but I can tell you it was usually a key phrase from the passage for the service.  It usually signified that the time of silent prayer was on the way.  I took this phrase to be my focus for the silence.

Tui amoris ignem (chant) 14
Veni Sancte Spiritus, tui amoris ignem accende.
Veni Sancte Spiritus, veni Sancte Spiritus.
Holy Spirit, come to us, kind in us the fire of your love.
Holy Spirit, come to us, Holy Spirit, come to us.


          Ten minutes of silent prayer.  During this time some would lean forward on their knees with their face to floor, others would completely prostrate themselves.  It was very personal and very communal at the same time.

Veni lumen cordium 92
Veni lumen cordium ...
Come, Creator Spirit, come!

          This chant was our usual setting for the Prayers of the People.  Concerns related to current events were often sung, and in the languages of the countries the concerns had to do with.  This was amazing to participate in.  It was a time when you could tell that the Brothers were really attuned to what was going on in the world.

Our Father 145

          This an ecumenical setting of the Lord's Prayer, and every time we sang it during the week it was in English.  It is the traditional Taizé setting sung in many churches.

Dominus Spiritus est 132
Dominus Spiritus est.  Spiritus autem vivificat.
Spiritus autem vivificat.
The Lord is the Spirit.  The Spirit gives life.

          At this point the Brothers and pilgrims stand to prepare to receive Communion.  The Brothers spread out in pairs throughout the church as communion was by intinction.  At the close of the song, there was a spoken invitation to partake in the sacrament.  Pilgrims just walked to the station closest to them, no ushers or anything, you stood in line to receive.  It was very natural.  After receiving you went back to your seat to pray and sing.

Communion Hymns:
Seigneur, tu gardes mon âme 134
Seigneur, tu gardes mon âme; Ô Dieu, tu connais mon cœur.
Conduismoi sur le chemin d'éternité, conduismoi sur le chemin d'éternité.
Lord, you watch over my soul; you know my heart.
Lead me on the road to eternity.
Oculi Nostri 11
Oculi nostri ad Dominum Jesum.
Oculi nostri ad Dominum nostrum.
Our eys are turned to the Lord Jesus Christ
Our eyes are turned to the Lord God, our Savior.

Communion Response - El Senyor 17
In the Lord I'll be every thankful, in the Lord I will rejoice!
Look to God, do not be afraid.
Lift up your voices the Lord is near.  
Lift up your voices the Lord is near!

          The text setting for this song was in Portuguese, but we sang it in German, so I thought I should just leave it in English!  I was really struck by the wonderful planning putting this song in as our response to Communion - the Lord is near!

I am sure I shall see 127
I am sure I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Yes, I shall see the goodness of our God, hold firm, trust in the Lord.

          Upon the close of this final song, the Brothers would begin to walk out and this was our signal that worship had come to a close and we were dismissed to breakfast.  This chant was also a frequent closer of worship as in Taizé, functioning as our benediction.  And really, what could be a better statement?  We prayed for most of our services to feel God's presence in the worship, but upon living we prayed to see God's presence out in the world.  And not only do we pray for it, but we expect to see God while we are out in the world.  Epic.

What if we all chose to see God's goodness in the world?  That's a great prayer.

From Texas to Taizé: Brother Alois

This is the latest chapter on my musings from my pilgrimage to Taizé.  It was a stellar trip with some awesome young leaders from the Central Texas Conference, led by Bishop Mike Lowry and Rev. Larry Duggins of the Missional Wisdom Foundation.  For more on the journey, see here.

Wednesday of our week in Taizé marked a rather rare occasion in the life of the community - Brother Alois (in a sense the Abbot of the community) was home from his world-travelling ministry and would be addressing the pilgrims following evening worship.  We knew upon the announcement of this discussion, that we were in for a blessed occasion.

As we came into worship that night, we were directed to set in specific places according to the languages we spoke.  Of course, being American, we sat in one of the English speaking sections where we found a bank of headphones.  Brother Alois would be speaking in French, but the thoughtful brothers had translators designated to make sure everyone heard the address - so awesome.  So at the close of worship, we passed out our headphones and sat at attention.  Our group was also blessed to find that we were sitting just a few feet from where Bro. Alois would be addressing the 2,500.  He spoke from the center of the Church of Reconciliation, where the brothers read scripture for worship.  We sat, and he sat on a simple chair.  It was so humble.

We all sat at attention as he spoke to us of Pentecost, the season in which we found ourselves and the spirit of which served as an inspiration for the community.  I took notes as furiously as I could, but I'm no reporter.  It wasn't a long talk with us, just a few minutes, and Bro. Alois spoke slowly so that the translators could keep up.  As I sift through my notes, many of which need their own translator, here are a few nuggets from Bro Alois' as he reflected on Pentecost ...

The Holy Spirit is the life of God Himself and lives deep within each one of us. 
But how do we discover the presence of the Holy Spirit?  In community, the church. [And] It is not enough to reflect and to share, but also to celebrate together, singing, believing in a personal relationship with the Spirit. 
By sending the Spirit, God keeps us awake and disturbs us.  It leads us not to follow our own projects but also to follow Christ. 
Even when we don't feel we can turn to Christ, the Spirit carries us.

This is just a little bit of a short talk.  During his time Bro Alois made a few announcements, and shared a few stories.  In a great moment, in light of a freezing cold snap in the region, Bro Alois extended  a welcoming hand from the Brothers to those in the campgrounds that they would open up more of the dorms to bring in the cold people.  It was an applause worthy moment.

And in a touching moment, a child read the names of the countries present in Taizé for the week:

Columbia, USA, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Puerto Rico (Yes!), Russia, Finland, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Austria, Slovenia, Switzerland, France,  China, Indonesia, India, Myanmar ...

I know that missed a few, it went by so fast.  We had been told in the end that  we were pilgrims with people from 35 other countries.

Brother Alois concluded his chat by informing us that the next day he and a few other brothers would be leaving France and heading for the Dakotas in America, to be in holy conversation with the Sioux tribe of Native Americans.  He and the other brothers were invited to come and "live in teepees for a few days, to pray in the open air and experience the gospel beyond barriers".

And he ended with this simple statement:
Christ came to breakdown barriers.
Thanks be to God, Amen. 

From Texas to Taizé: A Museum, or a Church?

Welcome to chapter four 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, for a few words on the worship space itself, see chapter 3Chapter 4 spoke of the Good Friday and Easter Worship services that close out the worship week at Taizé. 

This post is a little different from the others.  Part of the fun of traveling to Europe, especially for this liturgy nerd is being able to take the opportunity to tour some of the most beautiful churches in Christendom.   To be able to take the opportunity to tour (pray through) some of the churches so close to the beginnings of the Christian church as we've come to think of it was just priceless.  But at the same time there was something that nagged me consistently - while I felt the weight of history on me inside the many hallowed walls I walked through, I was walking through museums, not really houses of worship.

On Saturday of the week at Taizé, our Texas group took the opportunity to go into Cluny, the closest major town and a short bus ride away.  At the center of the town are the ruins of what used to be the Cluny Abbey.  The Benedictine order of monks that were in residence there founded the order in the early 900s.  Three successive churches were built in Cluny over the next three hundred years, and the Abbey became a hub for some 300 other Cluniac monasteries the reached throughout Europe.  As an abbey that only answered to the Pope (many abbeys and monasteries also had to answer to their patrons), so it grew to be a very powerful and influential monastic community.  It's influence, however, slowly declined over the centuries.  Even as the town had grown up around it, at the time of the French Revolution the church was seen as an oppressive enemy of the people.  The church itself was torn down brick by brick in the aftermath of the revolution, brick and stone used to further build out the town of Cluny itself.

At the bottom of the picture, you can see a display stand with steps arched around it.  In the back ground you can see a large tower and a smaller one to the left of it.  The old abbey stretched some 186 meters from that black to just past those towers, most of it sanctuary with little chapels off to the sides as you walked from one end to the other.  All of it gone, and the towers preserved as a museum.  Until St. Peter's in Rome was completed, the Cluny Abbey was the largest church in Christendom, a status it had maintained for 500 years.  I can't begin to describe to you the feeling of standing where such a grand church used to be.

After our time in Taizé, we had the blessing to take three days to decompress in Paris.  Which of course involved seeing many of the more famous churches in Christian history.

Having the chance to walk through Notre Dame was the opportunity of a lifetime.  When we walked through the doors, we were blessed enough to here a choir singing as they offered a concert.  It was more than incredible.

But it was also a bit of a circus in there.  Another museum, not so much a church.  Mass is indeed offered many times a week, but like Sacré Cœur across Paris, mass includes tourists making the loop around to see the beautiful stained glass and different chapel settings and art work.  It was actually kind of embarrassing at times.

Meanwhile there are signs everywhere to pay your euros for the prayer candles (which there were always more than one size of).  And oh my, the confessional booth at Notre Dame?  It was a bit like a bank vault.  Seriously.  Probably two inch thick, completely sound proof glass framing out a comfy looking office area for the priest in rotation.  Better take a ticket.

There's really nothing like this feeling here in America ... Touring these museum churches, that kind of still functioned as churches.  We have some amazing old churches with such rich history on the east coast, but most of our American churches are children in comparison.

But at the same time something was gnawing at me ... I mean, did God want us to build monuments to God's glory in buildings?  Or in people?  As beautiful as these churches were (the stained glass at Sainte-Chapelle was other-worldly in its beauty), why were they built?  Yes, for a time they drew people in to worship, but now they draw tourists in (even as they worship).  To me, these beautiful houses of worship are now cautionary tales.  As I work in a beautiful downtown church, I'm mindful that it  needs to remain a house of worship - now - and that's the way to glorify God through this building.

Even through all of these emotions, I felt the power of God as I walked the steps to the top of the Notre Dame's tower, able to see out over all of Paris.  I felt the weight of history as I walked the paths of so many monks who had walked up what felt like hundreds of stairs to do their duty in ringing the bells for the parish. Even in the hustle and bustle of churches selling souvenirs in the narthex, the presence of God was there.  I felt the presence of many saints who had genuinely worshiped on the hallowed ground I'd walked upon - I pray for them to be present with us as we build a church of people on this day.

From Texas to Taizé: Good Friday and Easter in Taizé

Welcome to chapter four 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, for a few words on the worship space itself, see chapter 3.  Here I want to tell you about two very moving rituals at the heart of the community, their services for Good Friday and Easter.

Good Friday

I had read a little bit about Good Friday at Taizé, but I wasn't really prepared for the Holy Spirit to move me the way it did.  I wasn't even sure I was going to participate at first, but I did, and I felt the power of the Holy Spirit that evening unlike any other moment at the community.

Worship started much as all of the evening services had started with the bells, the singing, praying, scripture reading.  As the formal prayers ended, many of the brothers walked out as was their tradition.  A few stayed behind to lead the singing.  As the brothers left there was a mass movement in the congregation - forward down the brothers aisle.  Many of our fellow pilgrims kneeled as the crucifix (the central icon of the church) was brought forward to the front of the center aisle and was laid down, propped up at the corners by stands and a candle was placed near the head of Jesus.  This in and of itself was a stirring sight, and one that happens every Friday at Taizé, as they observe Good Friday every week.

Leanne and I kind of just jumped in with the crowd, not really knowing what to expect.  Many of the Texas group also jumped in with us.  What happened was the least expected thing of all - a pilgrimage.

We both started on our knees, but that soon became very difficult.  We were kind of middle of the pack, with a couple hundred other pilgrims ahead of us.  We couldn't really see what was going on, we just knew something special was happening and we were in it until we finished.  Earlier in the evening, in a truly eye-opening moment we sang "In manus tuas, Pater, commendo spiritum meum." - Into your hands father, I commend my spirit.  Yes, we sang Christ's last word from the cross together.  Initially in Latin.  When I read the English translation, I had to pause singing for a good while.  I mean, how was I worthy to even sing that? But then I realized the call to model those very words of Christ.

So, as we were on our knees, and then our feet so we could continue, that chant sat with me.

After about 30 minutes, people started jumping out of line in front of us.  But still we stood.  The few brothers that had stuck around to lead the singing started moving out themselves after about an hour, leaving behind a few sisters from the local nunnery to continue leading the singing with a keyboard player.  This continued on, as we slowly moved forward.

After about an hour and a half we could finally see what was happening, again, I'd read about this, but didn't know what I was really getting myself into.  At the cross laid on it's back were pilgrims kneeling at the cross, laying their foreheads to the crucifix.  There were six to seven at any given moment, kneeling and praying.  As they would close out their personal prayers, the person would walk away and another would step in to take their place.  I wasn't sure how far I would take this myself - would I actually lay my forehead where hundreds (truly thousands) had before me?  This isn't something you would really see in a United Methodist Church.  Praying to an icon isn't really in the scope of what we do.  And this form of body prayer also isn't the norm in my squared-up Methodist worship mind.

People were still walking out around us.  But after two hours or so of standing and inching forward, we were there.  When it came time to be our turn to kneel at the cross, a friend we had made from America who was in front of us let us cut in so that Leanne and I could kneel together.  As we quickly made our aproach, I knelt with Leanne.  As I was deciding if I was going to go all in, we began singing my favorite chant of Taizé, the words of the criminial on the cross next to Jesus -

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.

After hearing that, I had no other choice but to completely submit to what was happening.  I laid my forehead to the cross and I prayed and gave thanks for such an amazing experience.  That Creator, Christ, and Spirit could stir others in such a way to begin this movement called Taizé.

After a minute, we stood and left.  I'm still so thankful for that moment.  Thankful I was there, thankful I ws given the gift of sharing that experience with my wife.


After Good Friday, we know, comes Easter.  Easter at Taizé happens during Evening Prayers on Saturday night, kind of the big finale to the worship week.

For us it came after making a trip to the local town of Cluny, where the second largest cathedral in Europe stood - before it was town down during the French Revolution.  Can you imagine walking into a sanctuary that was 186 meters long from front door to rear of the chancel?  All that was left was two towers of the abbey and a few scattered remains of the massive cathedral.  That itself was a mystical experience, standing in a place where and oppressive and opulent order of monks had their church torn down around them when the people had had enough.  In it's place is now a museum in the remnants.

However, at Taizé, the church is dynamic and growing and new pilgrims come in and out of the place.

The Easter worship service, much like Good Friday started as usual.  Although the energy was a little more electric, as if it was the culmination of a week's work together in prayer and it was time to celebrate.

How do the brothers of Taizé celebrate Easter with their pilgrims?  By candlelight.

As you walk in to worship to pick up your worship guide, all congregants are given a simple taper candle.  At the culmination of worship after prayer, singing, reading of scripture, and silence, the candles are lit.  What is a staple of our Christmas Eve worship here in the states we observed as an Easter celebration, celebrating that the Light of the World was among us - right now.  It was a magical moment, as it is on Christmas Eve, to see all of those candles lit for all of us that were there.  We all lit our own Christ Candles that night. Thanks be to God for these amazing moments.

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.

From Texas to Taizé: Living in Community

Welcome to chapter two 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.  In this chapter we'll discuss living in community, not just with the brothers, but with a global community of those seeking the Holy Spirit together.  What is it like to stay at Taizé?  How about the food?  What do you study?  Here's a bit of a breakdown of what it was like to live in Taizé for a week.

The Living Situation

For my wife and I, , the single most important element of our apprehension when it came to the buildup to our ten day trip to France had to deal with leaving our boy in the States for that long.  We had it all worked out, the grandparents did a great and loving job taking care of Wes while we were away.

What was the second most apprehensive item on the list?  Living in community with a bunch of European strangers for a week.  I know, that's the whole point, right?  I'd been on mission trips before with work teams with other churches and it was totally amazing.  But this was different.  I mean, we knew we would be staying in dorms, but there were a couple of clear dividing lines to get over right away.

1)  The community of Taizé divides pilgrims into 30 and up and 29 and younger.  Adults have dorms on one side of the community and the young adults (on down to late teenagers) have their own dorms.  A major goal of the community is to reach young adults and get them motivated to lead a God-following movement of reconciliation and hope at home.  At 31, I knew I'd be with the adults.  The adults also had separate food and small group studies.

2)  Probably the most obvious one, the dorms are also separated by gender.

I should also say, there are quite a few living options at Taizé ... Do you want to camp out?  Do you want to drive in the family RV?   Do you want to sleep in a dorm with a bunch of people you don't know?  Do you want a single room to yourself?  There are many possibilities.

Three other guys from Texas and myself bunked up in the dorm you see pictured of to the left.   It was essentially two rooms with three sets of bunk beds on each side.  A pony wall divided the rooms and there was a radiator for heat in between.  Our roommates?  Six Germans and a Frenchman that joined us on Wednesday.  They were already set up for the most part when we arrived, but we soon found that we had a lot in common - namely, the English language.

This single thing was revelatory to me.  As an American, we don't put much stock in learning languages other than English.  Sure, I live in Texas and at least a rudimentary understanding of Spanish is beneficial.  It was amazing and fascinating to instantly have a bond over common language with these guys.  Of course, we were all pilgrims as well, some there of their own accord (one man was there with his father), and some had escorted other young adults like us.  But all of us were there to pray.  Being able to meet in the middle on language made things very smooth for us, and we had frequent conversations on church, life, and culture late into the night.  We even had a noise complaint from the room next door.  Yeah, that even happens at Taizé.

And one of the coolest things about staying in community was seeing how our group of young adults flourished in the setting, getting to know people from around the world.  Most of them even enjoyed doing their chores and the opportunity that gave to serve the community and others.  That was amazing to witness.

The Food!
"The key to simplicity is offering fewer choices - not more." - Bishop Lowry, during lunch on day five
Food was simple.  After morning prayer, we received a simple breakfast of a baguette and jam with instant coffee or hot chocolate.  Lunch and dinner were served in the same place, with hearty food, but a little light on protein.  The food was not complicated, couscous, lentils, and beans were staples, as well as generous servings of bread and cheese.  I have to eat gluten-free, so I mostly survived on high-protein granola bars that I brought with me.  Although, there was plenty of food for even me to eat - you aren't going to go hungry at Taizé.  It's kind of a physical place for as much time for prayer that is given.  You walk everywhere, there are many hills and lots to explore.  The food, simple as it is (but well seasoned!), fortifies you to live in the community.

The tent pictured here was were I and the other adults ate three times a day for a week.  Food was served by volunteers (everybody who stays at Taizé gets assigned some kind of chore to serve others and help the community with up keep, Bishop Lowry served me breakfast at least once).  We learned early on that volunteers were the life blood of the community, especially those called 'permanents', or those who stayed more than week.  Those that choose to stay longer (some for several months).  Our meal crews were lead by two such permanents, one lady from Germany, one from France.  Not only did they coordinate the crews, but they led us in singing our grace before every meal.

If you needed a snack, fresh coffee, or a little wine to drink, you walked over to the Oyak, the social hub of the community.  Only open a few hours a day, it was a fun place to decompress after evening worship.  It was also the only place alcohol was served on the campus, for adults over  18.


As my wife would say, I'm very particular when it comes to a shower.  I'll be honest about that.  And showering at Taizé was a bit of a worry in advance of the trip.  I don't need to say a lot about it, other than the showers were much nicer than I'd expected.  Individual stalls with doors, with a small dressing area inside the stall for your clothes and toiletries.  Even though you live communally, the Brothers have set up situations to preserve modesty.  This American really appreciated it.  And the water was hot.  Couldn't have asked for more than that.

Small Group Study

Along with the dorms and the food, the other thing that was contextualized by generation was the small group study time, or 'meetings' as they're called in the community.  There were many options, meeting the needs of all present.  While there was a study set up for those over 30, Leanne and I chose to attend a special study for those from 25 to 35 with a couple of others from Texas.  We were there with 50 or 60 others from around the world, and we were led by Brother Jean Patrick from India.  We were thankful that he led in English, probably the most commonly spoken language at Taizé our week (other than French and German).  Following the larger session after breakfast, Brother Jean Patrick broke us up in to smaller groups of 5 or 6 to meet in the afternoon and discuss the scripture for the day.

For us, the message for the week was to focus on the call of the Lord in Mary, Abraham, and in those that flocked to Jesus - their call to be obedient believers, no matter their questions and no matter where that call would take them.  It was interesting in that we had all been called to Taizé for various reasons, seeking the presence of the Holy Spirit above all.

For more info on taking a trip to, and staying in Taizé, check this out.

From Texas to Taizé: Constant Prayer

About a year-and-a-half ago my wife was brought into the office at the Central Texas Conference to discuss an amazing opportunity - Bishop Mike Lowry would be taking a group of young people from the conference on a spiritual pilgrimage to the community of Taizé.  And not only would she be going, but I would be given the gift of this amazing trip as well.  A few days ago, upon our return from this fantastic journey, I posted a few of my favorite photos from the trip.  Just a little preview.  Over the next couple of weeks I'll be posting on many of the aspects of living in the community, from breakdowns of the individual prayer services, the worship spaces themselves, the living situation, the setting, and some interesting conversations from a few of the brothers.

As I look back over my journal from this experience I find it all a little overwhelming to try and communicate, so where do I begin?  We'll start with what the Brothers of Taizé are most famous for - their unique style of worship.

Before we get into the vibe of the worship services - which are simply knows as 'the prayers' in the community, let's outline the daily schedule, Monday through Saturday:

8:15 am - Morning prayer then breakfast
10:00 am - Meetings (small group bible studies broken up by age - more on that later)
12:20 pm - Midday prayer followed by lunch
2:00 pm - Song practice
3:15 pm - Meetings (breakout sessions from earlier small group meetings)
5:15 pm - Snack
7:00 pm - Supper
8:30 pm - Evening prayer

The whole day is oriented around the worship - the prayers.  We prayed before breakfast and lunch, and then after dinner.  I will also say that the times are pretty loose ... 

Around the time worship is scheduled to start the prelude begins - about 10 minutes of bell ringing at the bell tower in the midst of the community.  At that time, most of the pilgrims make their way to the Church of Reconciliation, the main worship space of the Taizé community.  Seating is simple, as in there is none.  For the most part people sit on the floor, or using simple wooden benches that are about 6 inches off the ground.  Their are sturdier benches and chairs against the walls, but they are forbidden in the main worshiping body as they inhibit sight lines.

 About that time the bells start ringing, the brothers stroll in, one or a few at a time, wearing simple white robes over their "business casual" street clothes.  The brothers take their seats in the center aisle of the church, the area framed in the picture with shrubbery.

As the bells die down, the singing starts.  The accompaniment was one of two things this week, the organ in the wall on the side or a short (48 key) midi-keyboard with a classical guitar effect.  Much of the time the worship was a cappella after pitches were given.

The most startling, and natural thing, about the worship was how it was led - as in, it kind of wasn't.  The brothers sat and faced forward like the congregation and simply sang and prayed.  Nobody was up front giving gestures, telling us when to sing or come in.  The miracle of this worship as that we all just followed.  The only direction given was on a few LED screens around the sanctuary that denoted what hymn was coming in the hymnal.  That was it.  A brother would cant the first line of the chant and everybody would sing.  Singing with 2,500 people from around the world - I know God was there.

As the services would carry on (morning and midday prayers were about 45 minutes, evening prayer formally ended after about an hour and 15 minutes), you really felt the breadth of the nuance of each service. Before the week's worship begins, the brothers would look at the countries to be represented during the week and would make sure that every language present would be included in worship during that week, maybe a little, maybe a lot.  There were 2,500 people from 35 countries there when we were.  Worship felt like what Pentecost must have felt like - because we were all there for the same purpose, we all knew what we were singing for.  The chants themselves were all very simple, ranging from two to sixteen bars or so.  This allows for each chant to truly become a prayer, as you can internalize the message and begin to think less about what harmony you're singing or what the next stanza is.  Simplicity is the key.

The 'hymnals' themselves also aid in understanding as they include translations of each hymn into most commonly sung languages.  With a particular chant lasting as long as ten minutes, I found it wonderful to take a break from singing in the midst of a hymn a read the translation.  It made the connections in the congregation so tangible for me.

Many of the more poignant moments during the services were the times of silence.  At some point during each service there was a 10 minute time for silent prayer.  It really felt like the centerpiece of the service (there were no sermons - ever).  And you were led into that silence, through the scripture reading and the prayers before.  People would often put their heads to the ground during this time in a position of total submission.  It took a couple of days for me to get into the rhythm of the silence, and I would have to make it a point to pray for something specific to keep my mind from wandering.

A song would bring us out of the silence and the worship would continue, often with a Prayers of the People or intercessory prayer cycle.  Prayers for current events for particular countries would be sung or spoken during a chant in the country's language.  During one amazing moment, a brother prayed for the tragedy surrounding the tornadoes in Oklahoma.  The Brothers pay attention to what's going on in the world.  My wife and I have family in Oklahoma, so that prayer hit close to home for us.

For the most part, the brothers follow the liturgical seasons.  Much of our prayer for the week was centered around the day of Pentecost, and most of our chanting was focused all calling down and welcoming the Holy Spirit into our lives.

Much as worship started, worship ended.  Worship ends when the brothers begin to walk out, usually during a chant.  But for the casual feel of each service of prayer, there was an overwhelming feeling God's hand in all of it.  From the sculpting of each service to include diversity of language, to the gathering in silence of the multitudes, we were all called there to pray with and for one another.  There was so much comfort in that.

The Brothers, for every service sought to create a space where the people could experience the Holy Spirit without obstacle - including themselves.  I can say I felt the power of the Holy Spirit in every service.  It just gets me thinking - how often does worship leadership get in the way of the Holy Spirit's work in worship?  It's going to take a while for me to feel my way through that.  Thanks be to God.

From Texas to Taizé: A Preview

A panoramic view of the Church of Reconciliation at Taizé

On May19, I had the blessing to embark on a fantastic journey as a pilgrim to the Taizé Community.  Bishop Mike Lowry of the Central Texas Conference and Rev. Dr. Larry Duggins of the Missional Wisdom Foundation led a group of 21 young adults and leaders from the CTC on this spiritual pilgrimage to worship, pray, and live in community.  During our week of worship we joined with 2,500 other pilgrims representing 35 nations from around the world.

There's a lot to say, and I'm still absorbing the experience.  From a week in prayer, to three days touring the many landmarks of Paris, my cup overflows with God's blessings.  What makes the experience so much the sweeter was being able to join in the journey with my wife.  It was a time to dwell with the Holy Spirit, it was a time of building community with my peers here in the Central Texas Conference of the UMC, it was a time to experience real hospitality.

Over the next several weeks I'll be sharing on the many elements of the pilgrimage, but for now, just a few pictures of our travels!

The altar of the Church of Reconciliation, the house of worship of Brothers of Taizé.  Some things moved around, but this was the usual set up.

The simple grave of Brother Roger, the founder of the order of monks that serve the community and abroad.  His grave was in the midst of many of the most ornate resting places, yet his, and the graves for all of the brothers, bore simple wooden crosses and a garden of living flowers.

One of the beautiful chandeliers and a few of the stained glass windows from Notre Dame in Paris.

The Rose Window from Saint-Chappelle, in Paris.  Literally some of the most beautiful stained glass on earth with each panel telling the story of the bible going around the sanctuary.  The camera on my phone could never do it justice. 

Going on a Piligrimage

In a few short days, my wife and I will be embarking on a big journey, as we'll be joining in Bishop Mike Lowry's Pilgrimage to Taizé.

The Taizé Community of Taizé, France began near the beginning of World War II, when the man who would become Brother Roger sought to create a place to shelter refugees from the war.  Through some early ups and downs a monastic movement took shape, a group of brothers living in the world, but not of the world.  The brothers (now over 100) live in the home community in France and a few other missions around the world.  It is a center for peaceful prayer that young adults have been travelling to for decades.

Out of the community has come a style of worship known simply as: Taizé.  I first experienced the Taizé style of worship as a sacred music student at Perkins.  The music is chant based, with short refrains repeated for several minutes in a swelling dynamic to create an atmosphere of worship that is thick with the Holy Spirit.

The ecumenical nature of the community is in the fabric of it's worship - when you make the visit to Taizé, worship will be sung in your language and every language represented by the pilgrims there that week.

I've hosted many worship experiences in this style, and I always tell people as a leader in this style, the point is to get out of the way.  It's a style so far from what we're used to in most churches.  Leadership is not from the front, it's all around and within the congregation.  The leaders are just there to facilitate the worship of others.

I can't wait to visit.  It's a rare chance to be able to go to the source of such an amazing movement in modern worship.

I'd like to ask you to pray for me, my wife, the Bishop, and the amazing group of Central Texas Conference young adults and staff that are making this pilgrimage.  It comes at a crazy time in the life of my family as we've just made a huge vocational change with me stepping on the path to ordination.  But Leanne and I are looking forward to take a step back to pray and worship together as we immerse ourselves in the Taizé community.  We are very blessed.