“If we have no volunteers, we will not eat!” cheerfully shouted a young woman as she recruited servers among the large crowds gathered around the dining area. This announcement seemed to be almost a daily ritual during the week I recently spent in Taizé, France, participating in the life of the ecumenical community there. While the community consists of roughly one hundred Protestant and Catholic brothers who have taken vows, thousands of young and not-so-young adults from around the world often make their way to the small village in France to spend a week or longer worshipping in the community.
While I had expected that the community’s famous sung liturgy would make worship a powerful and transformative experience, I hadn’t anticipated how moved I would be by gestures of hospitality, both among the brothers and the other visitors.
One of the keys to this hospitality is in some ways an imposition; upon arrival, young visitors are assigned jobs within the community. While in the midst of travel weariness and unfamiliar surroundings, visitors are given a role, valued as a necessary part of making the community happen. Some young people clean bathrooms; others work the welcome desk. Others wash dishes or hand out food. These jobs give visitors a glimpse into the inner workings of the community and they also allow them to make new friends among their fellow workers. Unlike many camp and conference centers I have visited, I never saw professional staff – only dedicated volunteers whose individual work made the greater community run.
And while one would think such work would discourage people from coming to the community, such participation seems to do the opposite. As I encountered visitors who had been there many times before, they each would explain that the life of Taizé made them feel welcomed and at home, living alongside many other visitors who had also made the trek to work and live in the midst of community.
In a day and age when the church is struggling, I think many of us try to make church as easy as we can for those in the pews, making expectations minimal and responsibilities optional. I wonder, though, if what most of us are really longing for is to be a part of something, not easy, but substantial, where we are invited to contribute. There was something refreshing about being part of a community that really wasn’t attempting to recruit or attract, but instead focused its energy on welcoming those who came by sharing with them the joys and responsibilities of faithful living. While the opportunities and challenges of communal life may differ from those of local churches, my time in Taizé did make me consider more fully what is possible for faithful Christian community.
Lindy Vogado is the Associate Pastor for Belonging and Outreach at Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.