Sunday, 19 September 2010


My father was a Congregationalist and my mother is a Welsh Baptist and I was brought up going to church in our local parish church which is affiliated to the Church of England, so to me Christianity is one broad group of people each worshiping in their own different way, but ultimately the same. I have never thought about it at all, ecumenicalism is how it is and how it should be, but not everyone thinks the same and times were not always so.

Taizé Romanesque Church When Frère Roger first came to Taizé he worshipped alone in a room that he had dedicated for that purpose. When there were other Christians present they would join him in prayer, but as many of the people he was helping were in fact Jewish, he felt that it was totally inappropriate to make the prayer times communal. When he returned with some friends (later the first brothers) after the war with the purpose of setting up a community, they worshipped together in the original room but as the numbers of brothers and Christian visitors increased so did their need for a larger space. What is more logical than to use the small Romanesque church in Taizé, a holy place that had not been used for services for many years. But the Catholic church had other ideas about that. Despite not actually owning the building (all churches were seized during the Revolution and are now state owned) the Catholic church objected to having Protestants worshiping in their, albeit unused, church. An initial local agreement was swiftly rescinded and the request to use the church then went up through the bishop of Autun all the way to Paris where it ended up with Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli who was at that time the papal nuncio. He was a forward thinking man, he had also helped many Jews and other refugees during the war and maybe it was that common ground that helped convince him or maybe not, but he was the man who gave permission in 1948 for the brothers to have permanent non-rescindable use of the church for their daily prayers.

Taizé CrossAllowing Protestants to use the church was one thing, but allowing Catholics to join them was another. Despite securing an audience with Pope Pius XII, Frère Roger did not manage to get agreement for ecumenical worship out of him. A big step for a pope to take of course. Ten years passed and the pope died and a new one, Pope John XXIII, was elected. This new pope turned out to be none other than the Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli who had granted permission to use the church in Taizé and despite being old in years, he was still very young and forward thinking in his ways and it was he who supported the community of Taizé and led the way forward for allowing Catholics to take part in ecumenical worship. Maybe it was their common experiences during the war that drew these two men together, who knows, but whatever it was, he paved the way for the close links between the Vatican and the brotherhood that still exist today and it led to real reconciliation between differing Christian groups.

So it saddens me when I read about the bitter row going on in the Anglican movement at the moment. Maybe they should “go back to core business” to quote something from my corporate past, maybe they should concentrate on the business of being Christians. What I find so refreshing about the community in Taizé is that they welcome all, they welcome the differences but more importantly they concentrate on the commonality. It all seems so normal to me, but of course this is not the way everyone sees the world. Just maybe one day all Christians in their churches can look and learn and get back to concentrating on what holds them together and not concentrating on the arguments that are splitting them apart.

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