Minister makes Taize, France pilgrimage

Published 1:24 pm Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Worshipers from 30 countries wait to enter a daily prayer service in Taize, France, an ecumenical monastic community founded in 1940. Nic Patterson, a minister at Columbiana United Methodist Church, made a two-week pilgrimage in May. (Contributed)

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – A Columbiana United Methodist Church minister took the trip of his lifetime last month.

Nic Patterson, the church’s 27 year-old director of worship arts and program ministries, made a two-week pilgrimage to the ecumenical monastic community of Taize, France, where he worshiped alongside thousands other young people from around the world.

Every week, waves of young people – mostly all under 30 – travel to Taize to live and worship. Most pilgrimages are Sunday through Sunday affairs, but Patterson made advance arrangements for a 13-day stay.

“During the 1960s and 70s, the young people just started coming – and they kept coming,” Patterson said. “Each year thousands and thousands of people go there.”

Pope John Paul, during a 1986 visit to the community, said “one passes through Taize as one passes close to a spring of water.” The pope also noted that he, like other pilgrims, was “only passing through.”

There were 4,500 worshipers during Patterson’s first week, and a new crop of 2,000 worshipers the second week, Patterson said. Attendance varies, but during summer months more than 10,000 people rotate through the community each week.

Patterson said he’s been an admirer of the Taize community’s music and worship style for 10 years. He said he’s wanted to visit for the last five years, especially after reading 10 books by Bro. Roger Schutz, who founded the community in 1940.

Schutz was killed in 2005 when a woman stabbed him multiple times during a worship service. Since then, Patterson said he had wondered about the direction of the community.

“I really wanted to see if Taize was continuing in the path that had started with him,” Patterson said. “The community has been through a tough period, but they’ve come out and they’re continuing on.”

Worship services are held three times a day, and all visitors are assigned a job. Patterson’s duty: hold up a “silence” sign at the entrance to worship services.

Columbiana United Methodist Church minister Nic Patterson (right) poses for a photo with Father Egorov Filaret, leader of a Ukrainian monastery. (Contributed)

On one special lunch occasion, Brother Alois, the handpicked successor of Schutz, asked Patterson and Father Egorov Filaret, leader of a Ukrainian monastery, to join him and community brothers for lunch.

“They are so humble it’s overwhelming,” Patterson said of the brothers. “They pray for the world. They seek to reconcile. They’re not seeking to divide.”

“He (Bro. Alois) said that the United Methodist are really catching on to Taize,” Patterson added.

Bro. Alois (left), head of the ecumenical monastic community of Taize, France, shakes hands with Nic Patterson, a minister from Columbiana United Methodist Church who recently made a two-week pilgrimage to the community. (Contributed)

Patterson, who majored in piano performance at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, said he especially enjoyed the music. Typical prayer services included about 10 songs.

“It has a lot of harmony, but its simplicity is what draws me to it. There is a richness and deepness unlike a lot of the music being written and published today,” said Patterson, who also studied music education and piano performance at the universities of Alabama and Montevallo.

“There’s a distinct Taize sound,” he added. “Everything is taken directly from scripture. The music is done in all the different languages as well.”

Scripture was read in several languages, and Robertson said he was especially moved by a Saturday night candlelight ceremony for 4,500 worshipers.

“To see that many people around the room light the candles one to the other, I saw cultures combining,” he said. “It wasn’t about where we were from, but we were one in Christ. To see the body of Christ form around the world all in one place was amazing.”