Imagine a dark church filled with dozens of candles flickering before the altar.
Worshipers sing simple songs in a form of meditation, interspersed with readings and prayers.
They light candles and add their flames to sand dishes filled with other candles.
For a long while, they sit in generous silence in a communion with God.
Welcome to Taizé worship.
Organizers describe it as a contemplative kind of Christian service that encourages people to break away from their hurried lives and to soak in the presence of Christ.
There is no sermon. No call to confession. Only a chance to be present in music and prayer.
Janesville-area residents have two opportunities in coming days to experience the quiet of Taizé worship.
The first is at St. Mary’s Catholic Church on Monday, Feb. 11, and the second is at Trinity Episcopal Church on Sunday, Feb. 17.
The ecumenical services are open to anyone and offer a “retreat for a short time from the cacophony of our lives,” said the Rev. Kathy Monson Lutes of Trinity Episcopal.
They may also allow people to “hear the still, small voice that calls our names,” she added.
For more than two decades, St. Mary’s on Wall Street has offered Taizé worship on the second Monday of every month.
Since 2017, Trinity Episcopal has offered services with a goal of at least one Taizé worship during each of the liturgical seasons or every other month.
Because the service is ecumenical, it “unites us rather than divides us, so very needed in our world right now,” Lutes said.
A long tradition
Taizé prayer at St. Mary’s will celebrate 21 years this month.
Ann Allen of Albany, Cindie Briggs of Janesville and Ellen Engebretsen, formerly of the city, are founders of the special prayer service.
Allen called the worship “a chance to step back from the noisy demands of our lives and simply take time to be still, to calm our minds and to open our hearts to God.”
Music weaves through the service and brackets the readings and intercessions, she said.
Allen explained that silence is an important part of the worship.
“Silence deepens the experience of the words, music and actions of worship,” Allen said.
At Trinity Episcopal, Lutes rings a Tibetan bowl bell at the beginning and end of 10 minutes of silence.
“I try to help people relax into the silence,” Lutes explained. “I let them know they will hear the bell when we begin and again when we finish. In between, all they have to do is be quiet.”
Some people get nervous during the profound silence.
Everything about our culture is engaged in noise and motion, Lutes explained.
“So to be quiet for 10 minutes, to disengage from all of that, is hugely healing but difficult for many,” she said.
In spite of some people being initially uncomfortable, eventually they do not want to leave the silence of the church.
“They are hungry for the peacefulness this offers,” Lutes said. “They are hungry for the communal prayer that we make together, maybe with words, maybe with music, maybe with silence.”
Community of Taizé
The Taizé service is patterned after worship in the ecumenical community of Taizé in Burgundy, France.
Pastor Roger Schutz founded a small quasi-monastic community of men at Taizé in 1944.
Since the late 1950s, young adults from many countries have traveled there to take part in prayer and reflection. Taizé brothers also have traveled around the world to lead meetings as part of a “pilgrimage of trust on Earth.”
Lutes was part of an organizing team for a pilgrimage that came to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Lutes was pastor of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Rapid City at the time.
“We welcomed the brothers from Taizé and 600 people from all over the world to a weekend of community, learning and relationship building,” Lutes said. “We sang, prayed and ate together.”
Lutes has been involved in Taizé worship for 25 years.
It “feeds my heart in ways that provide the sustenance to do the work that God had called me to do,” she said.
Lutes invites everyone “to come and be refreshed” at a Taizé service.
“We get some people from our own congregation,” Lutes said. “We get some from the neighborhood and some who are looking for something they have not yet found, a way to sit before God on their own terms.”
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264 or email email@example.com.