Taize Prayer in Worcester

Friday, December 7, 2012

From the first Taize prayer held at Ascension Church in September, our Sr. Jurgita has been part of the group that has organized and animated this prayer experience. It has drawn people from around the city every first Friday of the month, offering a time of prayerful reflection in the tradition of the Taize community of France.

Reprinted below is the article about it that was printed in the December 7th issue of the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.


Moments of Peace, Reflection

by Melissa McKeon

A rare combination of music and prayer, imported from France, is filling an empty space, in more ways than one, in the Vernon Hill neighborhood.

One Friday night a month, the curious and contemplative gather at the former Ascension Church at 44 Vernon St. for a Taiz service, an hour or so of music and chanting that Richard Monroe, who directs the music for the service, said brings people of all faiths together.

It's very quiet and reflective, he said. It's really a broad Christian framework so that, no matter what background a person is coming from, there's no one theological agenda.

The services are based on a movement that began in 1940 in France with a religious named Brother Roger, who started a community in Taiz, France, to shelter refugees, and, after the war, to help refugees, former soldiers and any other homeless, especially orphaned children.

Eventually, he and other religious who were drawn there established a community dedicated to contemplation and committed to service and celibacy, and whose services have been drawing the faithful, particularly young people, for more than 60 years.

Many in the United States are familiar with Taize-style services, which are prayers chanted along with what Mr. Monroe said is simple music.

Each piece of music is about 12 or 16 bars, some no more than eight, very, very short, that are very reflective, repetitive pieces of music, almost all of them based on scriptural text, Mr. Monroe said. It's meant to be a very reflective prayer style.

The services include music from singers and, at the moment, just a piano and guitar, but they've been drawing more and more voices. The November service drew 80 attendees.

Mr. Monroe, who is the music director at Our Lady of Angels Church on Main Street and teaches religious studies at St. John's High School in Shrewsbury, said the spiritual experience of this simple music has a complex result layer upon layer of voices and instruments lulling the community into contemplation.

Holding the services at the closed Ascension Church fills a spiritual need in that neighborhood, said Mary Mullaney, one of those who suggested holding Taize services at the church, which is owned now by St. John's parish.

Ms. Mullaney and the Rev. John Madden of St. John's were viewing the closed church when Ms. Mullaney suggested a new use for the space.

We were talking about what a nice place it would be for a Taize service, she recalls. It's still a very pretty space.

The use of the church for the service fills a need Ms. Mullaney said has been heightened by the closing of several churches in the Vernon Hill neighborhood.

Filling that need with a Taize service is a kind of echo of the establishment of the original Taiz community in Europe at a time when the need for spiritual community was acute.

But Ms. Mullaney said it also fills a need that is much more universal.

Every since there have been people there's been a hunger to find out why we're here and what were all about, she said. That hunger hasn't gone away, even though our culture tries to put lots of substitutes out there.

"The services also fill another need," in the words of Sister Jurgita, an Assumption nun from Lithuania who is part of the services here.

Sister Jurgita was introduced to Taize when she was 16, and as an adult began taking groups of students to Taize services all over Europe.

The most poignant moment that she recalls from those trips is among the great benefits of these ecumenical services, she said: In Zagreb, Croatia, just after the end of the war with Serbia, she saw young people from Serbia and Croatia sitting together and praying for peace.

Those people who are sitting together and praying for peace, she remembers thinking, they will never fight.

The next Taize service will be held at 8 p.m. Dec. 7 at the former Ascension Church, 44 Vernon St. Services are free and all are welcome. To learn more about the Taize movement, visit their website.