Visits in October 2010
In October 2010, a brother of the community spent some weeks in the United States. Two weekends of prayer and sharing brought together young and not-so-young people in Brooklyn and Baltimore. In Massachusetts, he made a series of visits to different universities to meet with students. Then he went west, for prayers and meetings in South Dakota.
South Dakota is an intermediate state between the Midwest and the West of the United States. In the eastern part, the great plains provide fertile ground for agriculture and livestock. When you cross the Missouri, the great river which cuts the state into two, the landscape changes abruptly and you feel like you are in a Western, it’s drier and wilder. There are found the famous Badlands, clay ravines and gullies created by centuries of erosion, almost a moonscape. And there too you find most of the Native Americans, particularly the Lakota.
Last year, a group of young South Dakotans came to Taizé, among whom were two young native Americans. The brother was thus able to return the visit, making contact with the Lakota and discovering their situation.
The Catholic and Anglican Churches have been present among them for 150 years and still play an important role in the lives of the people. In the midst of serious problems – alcoholism, drugs, diabetes, teenage suicides – the Lakota continue to seek a future for themselves on a narrow path that avoids the extremes of the simple abandonment of their culture and the rejection of the outside world. In talking together, we came to understand that despite the differences of culture, youth issues are often similar. And it was very touching to be able to pray and sing together, using native melodies sung with the tam-tam, traditional hymns translated into Lakota, and finally also the song "Aber du weisst den Weg für mich," with Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words translated into that native language!
“I am making all things new!”
In the summer of 2008, a small group of people from Baltimore (USA) came to spend a week in Taizé. All of them were active in their local Churches; one was a youth minister. After their time on the hill, they were anxious to share their experience with others back home, especially young adults, but had many questions concerning how to go about this.
Baltimore is an interesting city. Located on the East Coast of the United States, in the so-called Northeast Corridor, it lives in the shadow of Washington DC to the south and Philadelphia and New York to the north. Like many American cities, it has its share of social problems: the racial divide, drugs and violence, the gap between inner city and suburbs. These problems, needless to say, are exacerbated by the present economic crisis. But it also has a creative population that keeps looking for new ways of imagining justice and equality. The churches are quite active, and relationships between the different denominations are good. Maryland was the first and only Catholic settlement of the original thirteen colonies, although there is a tradition of tolerance for other Christians dating back to 1650.
In this context, the small group of Taizé pilgrims began making visits and phone calls, sending emails and building relationships with individuals, groups and churches desirous of journeying together as part of a “pilgrimage of trust on earth.” Slowly a network was formed, times of prayer held, and the idea took shape of holding a weekend to bring together people for a time of prayer and sharing in a city parish. But would anybody come? Gradually the number of registrations grew: 100, 200, 300… In the end, over 400 participants gathered from February 27-28, 2009 in St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, and a brother of the community came to support their undertaking. Archbishop Edwin O’Brien sent a message of welcome and his auxiliary, Bishop Dennis Madden, took part in the midday prayer Saturday and spoke about his many visits to Taizé while traveling between Jerusalem and Baltimore.
During the meeting, in addition to the times of community prayer,
participants reflected on the Letter from Kenya. Saturday morning was devoted to the first part of the Letter: “What is the ‘source’ for me, in other words what causes me to live fully? How is Jesus a ‘source’ for me? What are the obstacles in and around me that keep the source from flowing? What can I do about them?” In the afternoon, the topic was “What we can do, we must do”: “What steps forward in my life am I called to take now? How can we create greater unity in our church groups and parishes, between churches, and in the human family?” The link with Kenya was strengthened by the fact that one of the Baltimore parishes involved is twinned with a congregation in Mombasa, Kenya. They sponsored some of the young people from Mombasa in order for them to attend the Nairobi meeting in November 2008, and one of the Americans went to the meeting as well.
Those who took part in the Baltimore weekend were a very diverse group. “Only a Taizé gathering could bring together such a variety of people,” remarked one participant. All the age-groups were represented, from children to the elderly, including many students and young adults, from different denominations, races and backgrounds. Most of the participants came from the greater Baltimore area, but some traveled from Pennsylvania, Washington, New York, Virginia, New Jersey and even Chicago. A number of Polish people came, recent immigrants to the United States who had often been to Taizé and taken part in European meetings. One does not often find such a diversified group praying together and reflecting on important questions, in a land where tolerance often simply means that each individual is free to “do their own thing” independently of the others.
One of the organizers wrote: “We are nearing the end of our second day of
the first Baltimore Pilgrimage of Trust. The groups are gathered off in their places and conversations can be heard telling stories of lives lived and inspiration for the living yet to be done. We represent a wide range of ages, ethnic backgrounds, and represent several states along the East Coast. Although diverse in denomination, a common ground has been found.
“The planning and preparation for this meeting has been a tremendous adventure in faith and trust. We learned to speak a common language by setting aside our denominational vernaculars. We learned to be open to different ways of approaching a challenge, and our trust and love for one another took root and began to grow. We are all most aware of having been working along with the hand of God and we have grown because of it. We have turned a corner now, and our dreams are turning to the next horizon.”
In our lives, there are moments of intensity when what we believe takes on tangible form. At such times, all at once we are given a clear view of the meaning of what we are striving for, things that most of the time we either take for granted or call into question. Toward the end of the Baltimore meeting, the final gathering was such a moment for many. It became evident that, when just a few people take a risk out of faith, energies are liberated that bring many others together beyond the walls separating them and open up a host of new possibilities. But for that to happen, one has to pass through the narrow gate of daring to believe that a new beginning is possible. There is no resurrection without the cross, the abandoning of one’s comfort and security, the readiness to head out into the unknown. How else can God enter our world?
For just a few moments, at the end of the meeting, we could really sense the truth of Christ’s words: "Look! I am making all things new." And that gives everyone an incredible impetus to set out on the road once again.
Visiting Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Baltimore
November 2008 visits
In November 2008, a brother of the community made visits in the Northeast of the United States, notably in New York and Boston. In New York City, he met with seminarians and professors at Union Theological Seminary, and helped lead a morning prayer at the United Nations Church Center, just in front of the UN building: the songs, readings and intercessions were obviously in a host of different languages. There was also a weekend in a Methodist church in Brooklyn that brought together 150 people; as always, what was striking was the great diversity of the participants—of different ages and denominations, and coming from different places.
In New England, he met with students at several universities for times of prayer and sharing: Boston College, Boston University, Harvard Divinity School. At Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he joined an informal group of students who come together once a week to pray with the songs of Taizé, even if almost none of them have ever set foot on the hill. There were also prayer services in a Catholic parish in southern Maine and in an Episcopalian church in the western Massachusetts.
October 2007 visits
A brother of the community has just returned from four weeks in the United States. He especially visited university campuses in the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Illinois and New York, from many of which students had come to Taizé in recent years to take part in the international meetings. He spent several days making visits in the city of Milwaukee, where brothers lived for a time in the late 1980s in a poor African-American parish. Those visits culminated in a prayer held in a Presbyterian church in the center of Milwaukee, where over 300 people, both longtime friends of the community and many young people took part.
From New Jersey to Taizé
“With excitement and some trepidation, the delegation of 42 pilgrims from the Greater New Jersey Conference stirred from home with sites set on the ecumenical Christian Community of Taizé, France.
Taizé might be most familiar to United Methodists through its chants, five of which are in the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal, and 10, in The Faith We Sing hymnal supplement. Yet Taizé is so much more than just its music.
During the week at Taizé, the 42 pilgrims forming the GNJ delegation found their place among 5,000 – all a part of the global church, representing the Body of Christ from every continent and from 69 nations. Together, brothers and sisters in Christ, they enjoyed working together, having meals together, having Bible study together, and, most impressively, worshipping God together.
One of the profound glimpses of how the Holy Spirit was working in people’s lives from the GNJAC delegation was to see their responses to some of the following questions. Here are a few quotes from the youth and adults from our conference when asked: “What impressed you about the worship at Taizé?”
“Silence that allows the Holy Spirit to tailor his message to the individual.”
“ The songs sung during the worship stay with you all day. Wherever you walk, someone is singing or humming a chant. The songs penetrate so deeply.”
“Consistency, God-focused worship, silence, simplicity, beauty, inclusive, music fervor.”
“There was no place for announcements or talking. God was the center, the only focus. Worship was never used as a means of conveying logical concerns…”
“The fact that I could go to church three times a day, seven days in a row, and NOT be bored.”
“The simple, repeating chorus of each song touched my heart. As we repeated the songs, I moved further away from thinking of me, and closer to the presence of God.”
“The worship leader was God.”
“It’s simplicity and authenticity. Like a wave in the ocean, it just moves you along with it.”
“I loved how you never knew what language to expect next during the service, and found the ten minutes of silence very helpful to me.”
Rev Jeff Markay, in “Relay” October 2007