Reflections from Taize and the 2016 Youth Conference

From Stockholm to Taize
A youth worker's perspective on the 2016 AICEME youth conference
By Geri Lindberg

The 2016 AICEME youth conference was hosted by the American Protestant Church in Bonn at the Community of Taize in France. The Community of Taize is an ecumenical men's monastic community in Taize, France, with a special mission to helping young people ages 16-29 learn and grow in Christian spirituality and spiritual practices. Read Geri's perspecitve about the experience and how it impacted youth from the Immanuel International Church in Stockholm, Sweden.

On November 3rd we left Sweden on a new adventure. We were 21 people in total from Immanuel Church including 19 youth and 2 leaders. After having a bit of a passport scare at Arlanda [Airport in Stockholm], we were able to board the plane with absolutely no idea what awaited us. One connection and a layover later we arrived in Geneva, Switzerland, where we were met by another group from international churches to share a two hour bus ride to Taize, France. Upon arrival at Taize we were divided up into rooms with people from other churches - there were rooms of 8 and rooms of 12. The living arrangements were basic - 6 bunk beds to a room - and communal showers and toilets located about 50 meters from the rooms. The first impression that the youth were met with was the fact that there would be NO internet. This was something that was met with great reaction - they couldn’t possibly imagine being without internet for 4 whole days.

The food was also a source of great surprise - the portions were small and some of it was unidentifiable. I envisioned myself having to spend most of my time and energy convincing the youth to stay positive and look for other things to focus on. This however was not the case. Yes, there were some complaints and a bit of joking. But the youth really rose to the occasion and gave of themselves to the experience, to one another, and to those they met.

The mornings started with a sparse breakfast followed by 08.15 morning prayer. During this time we were exposed to an entirely different manner of worship than what we were used to. We were invited to come along side the brothers of Taize and the other participants in an hour and 15 minute time of meditation and worship. This time included numerous repetitive songs of reflective worship and a full 10 minutes devoted to complete silence. During the silence many of the youth commented on how foreign this was and weren’t really sure with what to fill the time. Some even commented saying that those 10 minutes felt more like a half hour. The youth never complained about the early mornings and with great respect entered this new world of worship.

Following the morning prayer there was a gathering for all participants that was led by Brother Benoit - one of the 80 brothers from the Taize community who was clearly gifted in communicating with young people. He spent the better part of 90 minutes communicating how a certain text was relevant to the world and to young people today. Our youth were very impressed with Brother Benoit and his refreshing perspective on scripture and the ways in which it continues to teach us how Jesus wants us to live and relate to one another in the 21st century and beyond. The young people were filled with good questions for Benoit and his response to them was both loving and thoughtful. Brother Benoit made a huge impression on our group and some even commented, “can’t we take Brother Benoit home with us to Sweden?” Some even approached him with the idea.

Following the talk from Benoit was a small group time where our youth were mixed with youth from other groups to discuss the Scripture text and the effects that it has on our individual lives. It was refreshing to hear from our youth how God works in their lives and how they see Him in the things they experience.

After lunch there was free time where our group had no problem finding ways to connect with one another and with those from other [AICEME] groups. People were very anxious and thrilled to join our group. Our youth have an incredibly warm and welcoming presence about them. There is always room in the circle for others who want to join.

Living in Taize means joining the community to keep it running. The afternoons were filled with chores that needed to be tended to.  All participants were given the opportunity to join. Our group spent one afternoon cleaning the large room where the general meetings took place. We teamed up to remove benches, tables, clean sweep and mop. We also had a few who volunteered to wash up after one of the meals since participants were responsible to serve and wash up after meal time.

There were workshops that were offered at different times. We joined a workshop where one of the brothers from Indonesia shared his experiences on Muslim/Christian relations and how God wants us to accept and live alongside one another in peace and love.

After the evening meal, there was another gathering in the large sanctuary for evening prayer which took on the same form as the morning prayer. The day’s organized activities ended around 22.00. At this time our youth ventured over to the outdoor gathering center called “Oyak.” The music started and the dancing began. Many dance battles took place and there was a wonderfully joyful atmosphere that transcended the ability to communicate using the same verbal language. The day usually ended around 23.30 when all students made their way back to the barracks for a short night sleep before rising for an early breakfast and morning prayer.

There were many different types of experiences during our time in Taize. What impressed me the most was how loving and inclusive our youth are towards one another and anyone they met. It was an honor for me to have spent this time with them sharing their lives, their stories, and their love. Our group was given so many compliments from leaders and students alike.

In the book of Matthew Jesus was asked: “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.

After spending time with our youth, I am filled with hope for our church and the future.

Geri Lindberg is the children's ministry director and diaconal assistant at Immanuel International Church in Stockholm, Sweden.

The article first appeared in the Immanuel Church newsletter and is reprinted here with the author's permission.