On Saturday the 30th of July I set off, apprehensively, from London Victoria Coach Station, en route to Taize. I knew next to nothing about this little village in France but decided to take the plunge and use it as my annual retreat.

I signed up as a sceptic, I wanted to know why so many people engaged with what I considered to be an ‘old fashioned’ and ‘outdated’ style of worship. I may have set off as a sceptic, but am pleased to say I returned as an enthusiastic convert.

My journey in Taize started in Rome. In July I holidayed in this city. Although I had a wonderful and relaxing time, this trip shook me. When I stared at the ceiling in St Peter’s Basilica, as well as the ceilings of many other Churches, I struggled to align myself with the Church. How could the people of God spend so much on their buildings, neglecting the poor by doing so? Things felt fake and cold, God felt distant. I struggled to feel God’s presence in any of the beautifully preserved buildings. They felt more like historic buildings than living Churches. Churches were more like tourist hot-spots, than places of worship. I returned home relaxed, but worried about my impression of faith.

I am thankful that I can say, having a positive experience of Church in Taize redeemed much of my lost hope and fragile faith in the Church. I journeyed with a group from the Diocese of St Alban’s, led by Bishop Michael. Young people and adults on an amazing journey together, it was so special to be part of such a dynamic and diverse group.

After a delayed coach journey, and missing our ferry, we finally made it to Calais to begin our marathon coach journey through the night. We made it to the French village on the Sunday morning, after snatches of sleep. We didn’t have time to breathe, or  grab some much-needed shut-eye, before heading straight to morning prayer. The style of worship was not something I was used to, but I was surprised that I settled in to it really quickly. I found The Church of Reconciliation to be a peaceful, welcoming and God-filled place. God didn’t show up in a dramatic way, He didn’t need to, He was already there to begin with.

Along with 25000 other pilgrimages I spent the week in a gentle rhyme of prayer, sung worship, Bible study and shared discussion. Morning prayer, midday prayer, evening prayer- this was the pattern we followed. There were no attention-grabbing ‘worship leaders’ at the front of the Church and no preachers dominating the pulpit. We are so used to ‘Christian celebrities’ and ‘big names’ at Christian conferences and festivals, it was so refreshing to be able to escape this and enjoy silence and space in services. Why do we always feel the need to fill every silence in a Church service? We’re not there to entertain people, who can’t we provide them with the space to talk to God, instead of feeling the need to intercede for them all the time? I hope this comes across the way I intend it.

It has really made me rethink about how much I listen to dominant voices that shout across social media, ignoring the quiet voice of the person sitting across the coffee table from me, and more importantly the Still Small Voice of God.

Spending a week with brothers and sisters from right across the world was truly amazing, a real glimpse of Heaven. At what other time will I stand side by side with people from Russia, China, Italy, France, Africa, Spain, Mexico, America… the list goes on and on. The shared discussions we had in the afternoon were really special, different nationalities brought different insights to the table.

Spending a week watching monks and nuns lead such simple yet full and satisfied lives was both inspiring and humbling. Watching a group of ecumenical monks, including young men and old, as well as covering different countries made me reflect on the similarities we share, rather than the differences we sometimes stubbornly cling to. As someone from Northern Ireland, this is a real step for me admitting.

I met some of the most genuine people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, the monks and nuns weren’t your standard definition of ‘cool’ but they really were that. These men and women were such strong examples of what it is to live wholeheartedly for Jesus, my tame attempt is an embarrassment at times.

I arrived at Taize with deep wounds, and although there will always be the presence of scars in my life I can say that real healing took place for me in a quiet yet powerful way. If I said I had been healed totally I would be lying, but I am beginning to feel more at peace, and less in pieces.

I simply cannot cover everything I want to say in a blog. But I hope to share about my experience in Church soon. What really stands out to me is the peace I have felt on my return. In the first week a couple of people commented about how much I look and sound different. I have changed. I feel changed. I am not saying that I am free from anxiety and stress, just that I have a Quiet Peace that I am now more aware of. If you ever have the chance to go to Taize, take it.

Some of my many, many treasured moments:

  • Singing with a choir of 25000 strong from right across the world, in several different languages
  • Witnessing a brother from Poland making his vows, and in doing so becoming a fully fledged monk
  • Sitting in the same room as a group of Christians from China, and seeing the joy and courage on their faces
  • Spending two days in The Silent House, and feeling God’s voice growing louder in my life
  • Receiving inspiring and true Bible teaching on mercy, a painful but important subject

I hope you’ve found this helpful.


Connie :]

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