The French sky was a brilliant blue and the humid air was stifling as we sat down to form a circle on a large patch of dry grass in the center of a dusty campground. We looked at one another, wondering who would speak first, and in what language.
Eva was from Germany and eager to bring our newly formed small group to order. She broke the silence – in English – by asking each of us to share our name and where we were from.
Three things were immediately obvious to the rest of the group:
- My husband and I were from the United States. (Apparently Americans are easy to identify at Taize by their canvas sneakers or running shoes.)
- Everyone one else was from Europe.
- Our group would be communicating in English since most Europeans speak numerous languages and Americans generally only speak one.
There were ten members in our group of “Baby Adults” – the term our leader (Brother Matthew) gave to 35 – 45 year olds. Half of our members were from Germany; the others were from England, Holland, Sweden; and Ryan and me. A wide range of personalities and professions were also represented: teachers, social workers, technology specialists, homemakers, a pastor, and a university professor/goat farmer.
I grew to love and admire these people – for their graciousness, their courage, their work ethic, and their honesty.
One of the German couples were driving through the area on holiday and made a last minute decision to visit the community of Taize, just because they could. They are both natives of East Germany, and both were raised in Christian families living through the rise and fall of communism in their homeland. They are still filled with the awe and wonder of being able to worship the Jesus they love openly and freely with other believers. It was an unforgettable privilege to share in that celebration with them.
In fact many experiences from my week-long stay at the community of Taize in the summer of 2013 continue to influence and shape me.
Taize is a community of brothers, located in a small village in the French countryside. It was founded in the 1940’s by Brother Rodger – a man from Switzerland who emigrated to France as a young adult in hopes of creating a movement that would promote the long, hard work of peace and reconciliation that was needed throughout Europe following WWII.
Today, the community of Taize is made up of over a hundred brothers from both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds, and over thirty countries. The community does not identify as a French organization, or affiliate with any particular church or denomination. They are a Christian community of brothers. Period.
According to their website, “By its very existence, the community is a ‘parable of community’ that wants its life to be a sign of reconciliation between divided Christians and between separated peoples.”
Taize invites spiritual pilgrims to spend a week at their community worshiping, serving, learning, and fellowshipping with the global church.
Taize has a long history of being a place where young people are recognized, valued, heard, and equipped as vital contributors to faith communities and movements of God’s work around the world. Thus, the focus of their teaching is to young adults (18-30 years old). This can be counter-cultural to young people’s experiences in the traditional, hierarchical churches found throughout Europe.
Taize also provides unique learning and sharing opportunities for children and adults, as long as they don’t interfere with the teaching and expression of the young adults. During the summer months, the occupancy at Taize can swell to 5,000 people. It is a parallel to the American church camp experience my kids look forward to every summer.
Every guest and resident of Taize is invited to gather at the chapel three times a day for worship. People of all ages and nationalities sit together on the floor, as prayers and hymns are lead in many languages throughout each service.
One of the most important lessons that I learned during my visit to Taize is that I take community for granted. Prior to this visit, I thought that everyone connected to a church fellowship has an opportunity for community, and that community develops easily and organically.
I was wrong.
Listening to people I befriended at Taize talk about their longing for community opened my eyes to see with renewed appreciation the incredible gift of relational connections that characterize my life. My European friends at Taize were fascinated by the bonded, intimate group from my home church that I was traveling with. They asked many questions about our relationships regarding how they had formed, and if they were common.
Knowing others and being truly known. It’s not as common or as easy as it sometimes seems from the extroverted perspective, that has developed in a culture that values emotional expression and supports personal disclosure.
Community is created with intention. Deep bonds are formed by our willingness to be vulnerable and imperfect, in combination with an eagerness to listen and let others be flawed too.
This type of authentic community is possible, but it isn’t common.
True community is a gift. A treasure. And a resource.
A valuable resource that I am called to protect, nourish, and share.
This realization is what motivates me to keep opening my front door every week to invite others in. Not just to my home, but into my life.