By Lavonne Shetler
Candles nestled around a wooden cross set the mood as Goshen College students arrange themselves in the circle of folding chairs.
Sarah Rody, a sophomore, speaks softly as she guides the group of 20 students through worship. The worship that the group is participating in is much different than what most of the college students are used to. Voices singing softly and occasionally humming permeate the room as piano and the occasional flute descant lead participants through song. Then comes time for silence: an integral part of the Taize service.
“Expect silence,” says Rody. “Reflective and contemplative –they’re kind of weird words– but that really is what the time is about.”
Taize services at Goshen College take place one Sunday evening a month in Newcomer.
The Taize service takes its name from a small village in Burgundy, France. There, the community of Taize was founded by Brother Roger and six other men with similar interests: growing closer to God and living simply. The community has grown since its beginnings into a small Christian community of a little over 100 members. In Taize, individuals lead God-centered lives in a style reminiscent of monasteries.
The Taize community lives solely by the work of its members, and inhabitants don’t accept donations or anything acquired by inheritance. But what separates the community from their typical Christian counterparts is how members of Taize conduct their worship services.
Churches around the world have services based on the worship style practiced at Taize.
Taize services are all about repetition. Songs, often less than twelve measures, are sung over and over again. The songs are sung in all the languages represented in the community, including English and Latin.
“We do a lot of singing,” says Rody. Within the hour-long worship time, nearly a dozen or more songs are sung. Adding in at least six repetitions of each song, and one can quickly calculate that the majority of the time is spent singing.
Music for the Taize services at Goshen is led by a cantor (a singer who begins and ends each song), a pianist, and whatever other instrumentalists are available and willing to participate. “Anyone who wants to help lead music can,” encourages Rody.
Between songs, scripture excerpts are read, and prayers are said. There is a time for reading Psalms, which is then followed by an “alleluia” song. Verses from one of the Gospels are also always read as someone lights the Christ candle. Intercessory prayers –praying for other people– are incorporated into the service too.
Rody, a Ministry Leader on Yoder 4, helps plan the Taize services along with Ben Baumgartner, the Ministry Leader for Kratz 3, and Tamara Shantz, the assistant campus pastor.
According to Rody, planning the Taize services consists of the three of them sitting around a piano with the Taize music books, and plunking out songs until they find ones that they like.
Although they try to incorporate new songs into the services, Rody says, “We end up picking a lot of our favorites.” She adds that while she did not expect it, she now “really likes the music we do –it’s a genre all its own.”
Easier to decide on is the Scripture that they use: usually, simply what is being used in the church on that particular day.
Taize services are different from normal church services in that they don’t stress the importance of sharing and community. Although it doesn’t fulfill the needs of community, it does make a different kind of community.
“It can be very meaningful sitting around a cross with someone else,” says Rody. “It’s a vulnerability thing.”
As important as all the aspects of the service are, besides music, the most integral part to Taize services is the extended time allotted for silence –something most Christians would soon grow uncomfortable in.
There are two times of silence in Taize, the first lasting for three minutes, and the second going a full five minutes. As a leader of the silence, Rody says that sometimes, “I sit and fidget and check my watch and wonder if people are getting bored and wondering what’s supposed to be happening next.”
However, this is most often not the case. First-year Jessie Gotwals, who regularly attends Taize services at Goshen College, says, “I like that with Taize there is more space and opportunity for personal reflection. In traditional church there’s very little silence. Through the silence, Taize lets you get what you need.”
Rody understands the feeling of calm that the silence can bring, and enjoys it a lot as long as she doesn’t have to be leading others through it.
“Not often in life do you have five minutes to just be quiet,” says Rody.
And in Taize, you definitely do.