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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 13:06 GMT 14:06 UK
How Taize changed the church
By Steve Tomkins
Church historian

Young Taize members praying in Bonn
Young people from all over the world visit Taize
The stabbing of a 90-year-old monk would be extraordinary at any time. But Brother Roger, the founder of Taize who was killed on Tuesday, leaves a legacy which is felt in churches all over the world.

The influence of the Taize community on the church in the UK and throughout the world has been pretty remarkable.

A monastic community in a small village in Burgundy, it has never advertised, or recruited, or marketed its style of worship. But all over Britain, and throughout the world, there are churches running weekly Taize services, or who incorporate its style and approach into services.

It has never advertised, recruited, or marketed its style of worship
This is simply because since Brother Roger Schutz founded the community during the Second World War, Christians have dropped in, been wowed, and spread the good news abroad. Up to 5,000 people a week visit the brothers, who number only 100.

The emphasis of its style is on silence, light, and above all the meditative weaving together of prayer and music.

Taize is also deeply committed to religious unity, and although its founders were all Protestants, it drew on various Christian traditions. Pope John XXIII called it "That little springtime", and Catholic churches have widely adopted the Taize approach.

Roger Schutz

Brother Roger first started the community in 1940 as a sanctuary for wartime refugees, including Jews and later German POWs. He only prayed alone in his room or the nearby woods, not wanting to pressurise non-Christian guests.

Roger and some Christian friends took monastic vows in 1949, and within years Taize had become a magnet for young travellers. The brothers all work for a living, and do not accept donations.

The most characteristic - and copied - aspect of Taize worship is their kind of song-prayer sandwich. The leader says a short prayer, then the congregation sings a short chorus, such as:

    O Lord, hear my prayer,
    O Lord, hear my prayer,
    When I call, answer me.

And then they sustain the last note, or continue humming, as the leader says the next prayer. This combination, say the brothers, "can form a kind of 'pillar of fire' at the heart of the prayer".

Bible readings from the Psalms are often treated the same way, a chorus being sung after each verse.

Another characteristic of Taize is stretches of silence. A prayer service may have a ten-minute silence in the middle. The brothers explain the reason for this: "If with a childlike trust we let Christ pray silently within us, then one day we shall discover that the depths of our being are inhabited by a Presence."

There is also a "hymn to the light of Christ", during which children light oil lamps. Everything is designed to foster meditation.

Another characteristic is that everyone, including the leaders, is supposed to face the front, to emphasise the fact that they are praying to God, to one another.

The community is dedicated to Christian unity, and one of its successes is that all kinds of churches now share this same style of worship from various denominations - whatever their other differences. And the community itself now includes many Catholics as well as various species of Protestants.

Holy Communion
Brother Roger receives Communion at Pope John Paul's funeral
Pope John Paul II paid a visit and praised "the transparency of brotherly love". The brothers have also welcomed Archbishops of Canterbury, Orthodox Patriarchs, Lutheran bishops and Methodist and Baptist pastors.

For 65 years, Taize was built and led by Brother Roger. He was deeply loved, and many visitors have spoken about the profound impression he made on them.

But the fact that Taize has proved so importable by local churches suggests that it is a lot more than a personality cult. Rather it is a whole approach to Christian life and worship, and as such it is likely to keep going strong for a long time after Brother Roger's death.

Steve Tomkins is author of A Short History of Christianity, published by Lion Books.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

This will come as sad news to many denominations, including the Methodist church to which I belong. Taize has been used in worship there for a long time and is a valued and special way of praying.
Elena, Southampton, UK

I am so sad that such a wonderful man is no longer with us. I visited Taize 10 years ago and it had a profound effect on me. I only met Brother Roger briefly, he laid his hand on my head and I have never felt, since that day such a warmth flowing through me. Taize and Brother Roger gave me something that I treasure with all my heart and I still sing and hum songs sung there whenever I feel alone or sad, they always help. I have tears in my eyes at the thought of him gone, although I know he has gone to a better place.
Darren, Woodbridge, Suffolk

It's a tragedy. I hope his great Idea of religious unity will not be also destroyed by evil and insanity . It must be the future for all religions.
Kammler Alexandrina, Forchheim

We have used Taize music in one of our services each month for 5 or 6 years. The service is called 'Be Still' and over the years many people have learnt a range of chants from the Taize music book. Now we can sing & harmonise and create a beautiful sound which is part of our prayer. All because Brother Roger gave us a new way of worship. Thankyou and Godspeed.
Kate, Peterborough, UK

What happened at Taize on Tuesday is immeasurably sad, but the place itself is a little miracle and it will not change. It's the presence of God, not Frere Roger, that drew people there and still will. All the same, on my next visit I will miss that familiar, hunched figure and ancient voice among the brothers.
Amy Robinson, Leamington Spa, UK

The essence of the teachings of the community, led by Brother Roger, is to break down fences between peoples, not just Christian denominations, and to give space to allow the spirit of God to pray in us in silences and meditative chanting. This has encouraged all who search for meaning in their lives and has deepened the faith of thousands of us who were touched by his clear vision. May his example of selfless love and welcome for all encourage all of us to, as he put it, "live out that little part of the gospel we have understood".
Tim Leates, London

Brother Roger died as he lived, praying with the community God founded through him. He chose to live a simple, humble and vulnerable life, a vulnerability that made him transparent with God's love. That vulnerability made him who he was, yet it cost him his life. He was an abbot, a teacher and finally a martyr. His memory will be honoured and treasured by thousands throughout the world who have responded to his call, a call for the church to be a place of simplicity, reconciliation, trust and hope.
Revd Jonnie Parkin, Leicester

I remember being at Taize for a week some 28 years ago - I would often just sit in the church listening to the amazing organist - I remember the elated ringing of bells at prayer times [I later wrote a song and called it "Bells of Taize"] - Frere Roger would always be surrounded by children at Divine Worship - I can still remember several songs I learned there - a great man with a great vision.
Philip Albanese, Cambridge, Canada

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