Friday, 17 July 2009

Expanding churches

La Tuilerie Website

You can tell that Taizé is filling up to its peak occupancy when the number of hitchhikers at the bottom of the hill starts to build up. We call them “escapees” as these are the kids who are fed up with attending bible readings or workshops or they are the kids who are just here for a cheap holiday, pretending to their parents that they have a higher mission in life! During the height of the summer, you see rows of them at the bus stop at the bottom of the Taizé hill from about ten in the morning until lunch time all looking for a lift to the nearest town. On a busy day there could be up to fifty in total which actually pales into insignificance when compared to the 6,000 (yes, six thousand) young people that Taizé attracts per week.

The Church of Reconciliation Driving through Taizé is almost impossible at this time of year, outside of the church service or activity times, as the whole lot of them swarm over the road. That is not to mention the numerous bus loads of tourists who go to see what it Taizé is. They are greeted by eager, earnest youngsters in the welcome centre who are more than happy to explain what Taizé is all about. They come to look and be amazed at the numbers, they come for the beautiful pottery the monks sell to fund their life in Taizé and they come to attend a service.

Taizé is an ecumenical community which tries to get Christians to see through the differences and to concentrate on the central core themes of what Christianity is all about. The future of Christianity lies in the common factors and not in the differences, but these differences should be cherished and celebrated. Just as each person is different, each group of Christians should be allowed to be different and they need to accept and enjoy the differences in their neighbour’s group. The monks themselves come from catholic, protestant and orthodox backgrounds so there is a wide-spread of understanding in the community.

The services are a mixture of songs, prayer (in various languages), a short bible reading (repeated in various languages) and silence. The songs are normally multi-voiced and to get everyone to sing, the church needs to be “full”. There is nothing worse than a large church with a few people, hardly anyone sings and the thin sound dwindles into nothing. So, how do you solve a problem like that? In the middle of winter on a Sunday morning, the congregation will be about 200 locals plus the monks so maybe 300 in total. In the middle of summer on a Sunday morning the congregation will be more then twelve thousand. So how do you always keep the church full? The ingenious Taizé solution is: you create an expanding church!

The altar The Church of Reconciliation was built with just this idea in mind. The “core” church, remains a church all year long and all day long. According to the number of people who have signed up to attend a week at Taizé, and according to the service (some are more popular than others) the church expands and contracts to make sure that it is always full. The church building is in fact a series of smaller rooms with vertical roller partitions.

The church is so full you can barely see the altar During the day these rooms can be used for discussion groups and during the services the rooms disappear and they become part of the church.

So the church is always full, the singing resounds around making everyone join in. Having said that, when the church is at its fullest at this time of year, the shear quantity of voices is quite something, when I am there within the singing on a Sunday morning it surprises me that the people here at La Tuilerie can’t hear us and join in as well.

If you want to read my other blogs on Taizé go to the Category list on the right-hand side of this blog page and click on Taizé.

The photos have been taken from the Taizé website. To get to the Taizé website click here.

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