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By Otto Selles


Taizé in the Fall

A parable of community.

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As we entered, however, Brother Aloïs urged the forty youth people present to sit anywhere, even on the bed. His gentle manner and complete lack of pretense were highly engaging. He explained how the community lives off the pottery and other wares it produces—asking with a laugh if we had already bought a postcard at the gift shop.

Brother Aloïs grew up in Stuttgart and came to the community in 1974. As early as 1978, Brother Roger had suggested that Brother Alöis "could do this"—be the next prior—a decision that was formalized in 1998 by the community. At the beginning of 2005, Brother Roger announced he would be stepping down during the course of the year.

Despite the terrible nature of his death, Brother Roger's foresight allowed for a smooth transition in leadership. Like the other Brothers we met, Brother Aloïs stressed the sense of spiritual unity that has allowed the community to continue since August. He also indicated the support the community has received, through thousands of emails and numerous letters from church leaders and political leaders, ranging from Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General.

During the group discussion, a young French Catholic asked how he could relate spiritually to his Protestant friends. Brother Aloïs suggested the Taizé; model of shared Bible reading, singing, prayer, and silence. "C'est dé;jà; é;norme" (That's already incredible).

The French student didn't realize he was surrounded by Protestants—Americans and Canadians from Calvin College, no less—with whom he had probably joined in prayer that day.

One may find Taizé; to be long on ritual and short on systematic theology. But it certainly offers wonderful encounters across national and denominational lines—encounters that provide a great sense of hope.

During the weekend, I shared a room with a Japanese pastor and a British teacher living in Germany. Over dinner, I sat at table with young people from Sweden, Germany, Italy, and France, and received an idea of what a "United Nations" of faith might be.

And after the visit, I realized why the Brothers would probably never put metal detectors in the Church of Reconciliation—their sense of spiritual security and calm goes miles deeper than most of us would like to admit. At the funeral service for Brother Roger, Brother Aloïs didn't shy from mentioning Luminita Solcan's name and committing her to God's forgiveness.

The beautiful countryside surrounding Taizé; does make the community feel protected, if not isolated from the world's problems. Given the recent riots in France, I asked whether Taizé; would consider moving to a housing project in a city suburb.

Brother Jean-Marie explained that since the 1950s at least a third of the Brothers have lived in the poorest regions of the world, and Brothers are currently serving in Bangladesh, Senegal, and Brazil. "Brother Roger liked to say you couldn't continue welcoming young people if there weren't a part of the community living among the poorest."

As to Europe, the Brothers have focused on the weekly programs at Taizé; itself and organizing annual youth meetings, such as the upcoming "pilgrimage of confidence on earth," set to take place in Milan at the end of December, 2005.

Set on such a path of both reconciliation and truth, Taizé; continues to offer a "parable of community" to France and the rest of the world.

Otto Selles is professor of French at Calvin College. He is currently in Grenoble, directing the Calvin Study in France program (Fall 2005).

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