An Evening of Taizé and Tea

The soft hum of music and flickering candlelight emanate from Randell Chapel Monday evenings. In the midst of the normal Chautauqua bustle, the United Church of Christ hosts the Taizé service — a simple service of silence, Scripture, prayer and chant.

The service originates from an ecumenical monastic order located in Taizé, a town in the French countryside. The community was founded in 1940 as a sanctuary for World War II refugees. It has since grown into a community for prayer, listening, service and simplicity led by 100 to 200 brothers from various denominations and countries.

The simplicity and silence has prompted young people to stay in the French community in exchange for local volunteer work. Visitors to the Taizé community partake in daily song, prayers and Bible study.

Taizé made its way to Chautauqua thanks to the efforts of Rebecca and Ron Cole-Turner, the UCC’s hospitality coordinator and chaplain administrator, respectively. The Cole-Turners became the hosts of the UCC’s Headquarters in 2012, but they have been active Chautauquans since first visiting in 1996.

Ron has spoken about his research in theology and scientific ethics for both the morning lecture and the Interfaith Lecture series. Rebecca is a spiritual director who has hosted the morning meditations services. She is also an organizer of the daily Service of Blessing and Healing.

Last season, they began to host Taizé and Tea at the UCC to fulfill a need they identified in the Chautauquan community.

“There’s a lot of talking to — and and a fair amount of talking with — [in Chautauqua], but just to sit in silence in a group creates, particularly with the music, creates an openness,” Ron said.

Orange silk fabric drapes the walls of Randell Chapel, and chairs encircle a table of votive candles, which participants in the service are invited to light as a prayer. Ron plays the piano, accompanied by a CD of music originating from the Taizé community, while Rebecca and other members of the coordinating team lead the room in chant, Scripture and prayer. In the middle of the service, there is a 10-minute time of silence where participants can listen to the movement of Chautauquans outside, reflect on the day, and enjoy the smells of burning candles.

After the service, the Taizé team serves tea to encourage participants to talk to one another.

Most of the chairs are full on Monday evenings.

“The response has been phenomenal, and it’s not usually UCC folks,” Rebecca said. “It’s people from all around Chautauqua — from different faiths and denominations. And then they stay. They meet people here that they wouldn’t meet elsewhere. They talk and drink their tea.”

The final Taize service of the season will be held at 7:15 p.m. tonight in the United Church of Christ’s Randell Chapel. Members of the Taizé team include Debra Dinnocenzo, Cheryl O. Gorelick, Chris Hylenski and Sheila Marie Long.