Taizé is an amazing place.
As a headteacher my time is precious and there are lots of demands on it. It was a tough decision to leave school behind with all the things that I have to attend to day to day there. But then I started to think.
At school we try to teach our young people to grow, to broaden their horizons, to try out new things and to "see for themselves." Our invitation to travel to Taizé felt like an amazing opportunity, a chance to experience the source of the famous worship style and enjoy the fellowship of young people from all over the world. I really wanted to go and see for myself. As they say in France, "Je ne regret rien!"
What strikes you most is the calm and measured rhythm of life here.
The services of common prayer happen three times a day and are wonderful. The Taizé chants are used throughout. They are easy to pick up and are amazingly resonant. We find ourselves humming them throughout the day, they make you feel so calm and relaxed. The music is truly heavenly; the Taizé brother composers are 21st century Bachs.
Then there are the silences. Some silence can be oppressive but not here. You are eased into it through prayer and chant, it becomes part of your daily ritual, a chance to close your eyes and to think and pray. I don't do that often enough in my life; I'm going to really try to observe silence more often when I get back.
As the headteacher of a Catholic and Church of England school it is amazing that the services are ecumenical and all can receive the communion each morning. My Catholic friend and colleague Lissa and I have been able to partake equally in a mass for the first time. If only this could happen more often, Taizé is an example to the world. All are welcome and invited.
The young people have an amazing time. They get to meet young people of different ages from all over the world. This week we have mostly been with people from Sweden, Italy, Germany, USA and England. The atmosphere is great and they all get along so well finding out about life in different countries and cultures. The lessons for life here are huge. Preconceptions are challenged, friendships are made. Socialising is a very important part of Taizé life.
But they also get a chance to think deeply about God and their faith through the daily bible reflections and small group discussions. These groups are a mixture of nationalities and Christian traditions and the ebb and flow of discussion within them is a wonderful way of pondering what to think about an issue raised from a bible story and how it reflects in our modern lives and cultures. This journey is shared equally for young people and leaders alike; we all learn and reflect together which is good.
For our group we also got to spend time with our Archbishop. He has really enjoyed getting to know our young people and to spend time with them. Equally they have enjoyed getting to know him and there have been a lot of laughs, he is great fun.
So our pilgrimage here has been a great success. A time to make friends, to reflect, to pray and to explore. If you are considering bringing a group here yourself, do it! If you are a headteacher, come as well! You won't regret it. The community of Taizé and its life in the Holy Spirit transforms you and stays with you; the calmness, the quiet, the prayerful chanting, the camaraderie, the exuberance of youth. Wonderful.
When can we come back?
Simon Barber, Headteacher, Holy Trinity Barnsley