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Campus minister brings Taizé to region


By Jeannette Solimine

Each week during the summer months, 3,000 to 6,000 Protestant and Catholic young people from 75 countries flock to Taizé, France, for an ecumenical experience of simplicity and worship. 

“At the heart of the Taizé Community is a belief that the ascent of the soul to God goes hand in hand with serving others,” said the Rev. Robert Hicks, United Methodist campus minister at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman.  “This is not an asceticism that removes us from expressing God’s love to others. 

Taize group

Students meet to discuss Taizé.

“The brothers of Taizé go to desperate places on earth to live alongside of and to serve the poor. They have ministries in many impoverished areas in the world. 

A ministry of prayer and presence leads to economic and political dialogues and commitments to seek to work on behalf of the poor in concrete ways.  The balance between devotion and action that we found at Taizé was what we were looking for as a new model for campus ministry,” Robert said.
In the fall of 2004, Koinonia House, where the Common Ministry at WSU is located, began to offer Monday night Taizé services, based upon the actual Taizé style. 

Students sit on the floor facing a worship center with many candles.  The musicians—guitar, keyboard, violin, flutes and cantors—sit in the back to lead singing.

Each week they experience a period of silence.  While many students have said they loved the singing, they have also said they found the silence exceptionally meaningful.  It connected them to God in a way they had never experienced.

After the Taizé service, the students gather downstairs in the café to reconnect with the community over tea or a latté and a dessert, usually chocolate. 

They also offer a service on Tuesdays at noon.

This Taizé worship experience began as a trip. In May 2004, the Common Ministry took the first group of students to Taizé, France. 

The Rev. Gail Stearns, the Presbyterian campus minister and director of the Common Ministry, and Robert traveled with the students. 

It readily became obvious to Gail and Robert that this experience of singing, silence and simplicity would become an important part of their ministry at WSU.
Taizé is an ecumenical community of brothers, under the leadership of Brother Roger, who lives a life of prayer and service.  The community was started by Brother Roger as a place to serve the many refugees coming out of Eastern Europe following World War II. 

Over time, the community developed a unique worship style that began to attract young people from all over the world.  The words of the music are written in the languages of the people of the world. 

Consequently, in Taizé worshippers sing in harmony in many different languages.  The songs are repeated many times becoming a form of prayer. 

They often say in Taizé, “To sing is to pray twice.”

Robert Hicks

Robert Hicks

During this past year, Gail and Robert learned much about the music and spirituality of the Taizé worship style.  They began taking students around to the supporting congregations to give them an experience of Taizé worship. 

During Lent this spring, the Simpson United Methodist Church in Pullman offered a Taizé Lenten service on Sunday nights.  About 100 people came from all over the Palouse and from a variety of churches.  

One woman said, “After that first worship service, I felt like I’d never worshiped before.  It took me so deep.”

After the success of these services, the Common Ministry Council decided to sponsor an ecumenical Taizé service on Sunday nights this upcoming fall, following the WSU academic calendar. 

They will begin at Simpson United Methodist Church in September and see where it goes from there.  Worship will be at 7:30 p.m.  Child care will be provided.

Another program component they will add this fall is an hour of instruction and discussion prior to the worship, at 6:30 p.m.  They will teach about contemplative prayer, meditation and healing, simplicity, social action and the devotional life, as well as discussing the rich tradition of Christian devotional writings from such people as Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich and contemporary writers on prayer like Thomas Keating.

The ministry goal at the K-House is to direct students into areas of mission, driven by their experience of God in prayer.  Next year’s program will explore the relationship between contemplative prayer and social-missional engagement. 

Currently, students are participating in a farming venture, working alongside poor families to help them grow fresh produce for themselves and to contribute to the food bank. 

“We would like to expand this concept of working alongside the poor, not just doing things on behalf of the poor.  To be present with the poor and marginalized in Christ’s name is itself a form of contemplative prayer,” Robert said.

The Common Ministry is returning to Taizé this year with a new group of six students.  Most of them have been involved in the Monday night Taizé service.  They already know many of the songs and are comfortable with the silence. 

They are looking forward to meeting young people from all over the world who are finding in the prayer, the simplicity and the community, something that satisfies them deeply and gives them hope, Robert said.

This is more than just a tourist trip to France. 

The Rev. Kristine Zakarison, pastor of Community Congregational United Church of Christ in Pullman, who is also going as a chaperone this year, said, “We are currently meeting weekly and discussing what it means to go on a pilgrimage, which is how the trip is understood for the students.”
Robert’s knowledge of Taizé is in demand in the Northwest. 

A Taizé worship will be offered at Jubilate! a worship arts retreat that will be held July 18 to 23 at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. 

Robert will lead a week-long workshop on Taizé. 

His sessions will introduce participants to the historical and theological background behind the Taizé movement and also give them an experience of the music and contemplative silence as well as equip them for utilizing these resources within their own churches. 

His wife, the Rev. Tori Hicks, pastor of Colfax United Methodist Church, is this year’s Jubilate! chaplain.

For information on Jubilate! call (360) 479-9043 or visit www.gbgm-umc.org/jubilate!/ index.html.

Robert will also facilitate a Taizé weekend for students and adults at Camp Cross on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Sept. 9 to 11.  For information, visit www.campcross.org.


For information on the Common Ministry, call 332-2611


Copyright, The Fig Tree- © May 2005