An introduction to the worship service held at
Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California,
on Sunday, March 16, 2014, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Copyright © 2014 by Jeffrey S. Spencer

Because, as you will see, the service today didn’t have a “sermon,” there is no sermon to post.  Instead, we post this manuscript of the introduction and explanation of the service the community was about to experience.

In 2010, I took a 3-month sabbatical.  The focus on the sabbatical was “sacred space.”  I went to some places that have been sacred space for me.  I went to some places and was surprised to discover a sense of sacred space there.  And I went to some places I had long hoped to go to, thinking they might be sacred space for me.

Two of the places I had long to go to were in France:  Chartres and the Taizé community.  Chartres has an amazing cathedral that dates back to the late 12th and early 13th centuries.  Taizé is an ecumenical community of monks – Catholics and Protestants – that focuses on being a place of prayer for teens and 20-somethings.  Being over 30, I had to apply for permission to visit.

I know some of you have experienced worship that utilizes Taizé music.  The worship might have been called “a Taizé service.”  It wasn’t – unless it was held three times a day while living in community.  There is no way to truly duplicate the experience of worshiping in Taizé with the brothers.  Instead, a service can use the form and the music from Taizé, and that’s what we’re going to do today.

The center of life at Taizé is prayer offered in worship.  Three times a day, the brothers and the visitors (in the summers, there can be thousands of visitors) gather in the church to pray.  Bells call the community together.  People enter the church in silence.

When the ringing of the bells fades away, a number lights up on a display like you’d see in a deli – “Now serving number 137.”  The monks, seated in the center of the sanctuary, and the visitors seated on the floor, turn to the song the number denotes in songbooks.  The monks start singing and the visitors join in.

Because the community is ecumenical and international, many of the songs are in Latin – that way no one’s language or tradition is favored.  The songs are usually just a couple lines long and are repeated and repeated.  The idea is that the singing goes on long enough for everyone to feel comfortable with the tune and lyrics, and then to be able to sing it without needing to think about it, and then to sing it a few more times.  This way, the song becomes a prayer that is not only thought, but is also felt and embodied.  The song ends and a new number shows up and a new song begins.

In addition to the singing, the community worships in other ways.  A prayer might be chanted by one of the monks over humming and a sung response.  The Eucharist is shared daily.  Scripture is read, typically in two or three languages.  It is followed by a song and a long period of silence.  That silence is – or at least it was for me – the sermon.  I used the silence as an opportunity to meditate on the scripture reading, to listen for a word from the stillspeaking God.

When I started my week at Taizé, I found myself thinking, “What? We’re worshiping again already?”  And I found the silence long and even a little uncomfortable.  Just to give you a warning, our silence today will last about 10 minutes.

By the end of the week, I was really enjoying this way of praying and the silence didn’t always seem long enough.  On the afternoon of my second-to-last day at Taizé, I actually looked at my watch and though, “I have to wait how much longer until we pray together?”  My experience of this way of worshiping changed.

Today, we’re going to have one experience, modeled after the worship at Taizé.  It is part of our sermon series on spiritual practices.  This is an opportunity to experience praying and worshiping in the Taizé style.  After the worship service, I invite you to get a cup of coffee and come into the Guild Room to talk about your experience.

And now, let us more into this time of worship as they do in Taizé: with church bells ringing, calling us to prayer.

*     *     *     *     *     *

After the service, I invited those who chose to stick around to discuss these questions:

Thinking both of what happened in the service and what happened inside you:

  •     What caught you by surprise?
  •     What made you to “Oooo” or “Hmmm” or “Ahhh”?
  •     What helped you “be present” with God?
  •     What hindered your being present with God?

This is a very different form of worship from what we do most Sundays.  What did experiencing this form of worship teach you about worship as a spiritual practice?

The Taizé songs/chants are a unique form of prayer.  What did experiencing them teach you about your prayer practice?