The Taizé Community was founded in 1940 by Frère Roger who became the first Prior. Frère Roger, a protestant and youngest of nine children of a Swiss Protestant Pastor was born at Provence, Switzerland in 1915. As a youngster he was very influenced by his devout French grandmother’s tales of helping refugees during the First World War.
In 1940 Roger sent of on a bicycle and cycled some 70 miles till he reached the tiny isolated village of Taizé where he was offered a meal and invited to stay. Taizé is in the heart of the Burgundian countryside to the north east of Lyons. With the help of a small loan from family friends Roger bought a derelict house and was soon offering hospitality to some of the refugees fleeing south from the Nazis. Many of the refugees were Jewish ans so as not to offend their religious sensibilities Roger would go off quietly to sing and pray in the woods. His sister who had joined him explained to their guests that it would be better for those who wished to pray to do so alone in their rooms. But a pattern of regular prayer was started. After two years the siblings, having be warned by a French officer, fled before the Gestapo arrived in search of refugees. Roger returned in 1944 and after much prayer set about setting up a stable community, at first with protestants but then with catholics too. The community with the help of Roger’s sister looked after orphaned refugees and former German prisoners.
In 1950, seven brothers took solemn vows and the community established, amongst other things, a retreat centre that nowadays has difficulty coping with 5,000 visitors a year. The emphasis was always on the young and by 1959 young people from all over Europe were making summer pilgrimages to Taizé. The community has developed a pattern of worship that includes Bible readings and periods of silent reflection and meditation. In their services the brothers use a distinctive style of short repetitive Songs for Prayer and it is for their songs that the community is best known. Visitors to Taizé were drawn from all over Europe and since most of the non-Cyrillic European languages have a Latin base it was decided that in the interest of having a common language for worship that everyone would be able to understand many of the songs were written and arsung in Latin.
In our services of Songs and Prayers from Taizé we imitate Taizé’s own pattern of worship,singing repetitively, readings from the Bible, leading the worship from out of sight (to avoid distractions) and a period of silence. There is always a candlelit display at the front of the church to provide a focus for prayer and meditation. After the readings there is a brief talk to direct prayers and meditation during the five minutes or so of silence that follows. At the end of the silence the congregation have the opportunity to come forward and place a candle in the Votary as an aid to prayer or meditation. From time to time the service includes a Eucharist and these occasions are very special. Services usually end with a joyful song which is sung with great enthusiasm and for most of those who attend the prayer songs keep repeating themselves in their heads for many days to come.
Frère Roger spent his whole adult life developing a ministry of peace and reconciliation, he was stabbed to death whilst at worship in the church at Taizé on Tuesday August 16th 2005 aged 90.
A candlelit service of Songs and Prayers from Taizé is held at the Parish Church at 6 o’clock in the evening on any fifth Sunday of the month except in December. This is a quiet and prayerful service using the distinctive songs and style of prayer of the ecumenical community of Taizé