The Songs and Stillness of Taizé

EDS student Susan Butterworth has been leading a weekly Taizé service at nearby MIT as part of her Field Education placement since September 2015. Below, she talks about her experiences in this ecumenical ministry.

Susan Butterworth at MIT ChapelGetting Started

I was looking for a Field Ed placement in higher education chaplaincy and contacted the Rev. Thea Keith-Lucas, chaplain of the Lutheran Episcopal Ministry at MIT. Thea suggested that I explore the possibility of leading Taizé at MIT, and so I spent the summer of 2015 researching Taizé and preparing to lead the service. I was greatly helped by my June Term course with [EDS Professor] Ellen Oak on congregational singing.

Soon after, in September 2015, under the auspices of the Lutheran Episcopal Ministry, we began offering “Song & Stillness: Taizé at MIT”—a weekly contemplative prayer service for MIT students and the surrounding community.

What is Taizé?

The name “Taizé” floats around in church music: “This is a Taizé chant, this is music from Taizé.” But what exactly is Taizé?

Taizé is an ecumenical monastic community in the Burgundy region of France, which draws thousands of pilgrims, especially youth, from many countries and walks of life. Taizé is a style of contemplative worship and prayer based on the worship at that community. Taizé is also a musical repertoire developed for and sung in Taizé prayer services.

The worship tradition was founded on and practices a number of significant themes including reconciliation, community, and refuge from a secular and materialist culture.

Taizé Goes to College

The evening prayer service at MIT consists of three elements: chant-like singing, short passages of scripture, and contemplative silence. The short songs were composed specifically for Taizé in multiple languages, and are repeated multiple times to promote a contemplative mood. We read the scripture in multiple languages as well. We all sit on cushions on a rug, contemplating an icon of Christ by candlelight in MIT’s simple, beautiful interfaith chapel.

The reflective nature of Taizé-style worship is very attractive to college students. In the culture of our students, the prolonged silence is profound. Sunday night Taizé worship provides a transition from the weekend into the school week. The songs are simple and pure, providing a way for students to slow down and feel centered amid the multiple demands of school and life. Taize Service

The MIT community is international, so the multi-lingual aspect of the service and the fellowship is perfect. We have drawn students and community members from MIT, Harvard, and the surrounding Cambridge and Boston community.

The ecumenical and contemplative aspects of the service are what I love the most. Vocationally, the opportunity to plan liturgy every week, provide musical leadership, and enable participation of the entire assembly by passing the readings from person to person around the room are the most satisfying aspects of the experience. I love offering a respite from the pressure of academic life. I love hearing the voices rise from the assembly in different languages. I love hearing the faith stories of the students. I love bringing together students from different faith traditions within the Christian community.

Interested in attending Song & Stillness: Taizé at MIT? Services are held at the MIT Chapel (48 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA) on Sundays at 8:00pm.

This article has been condensed and edited from an interview conducted with Susan Butterworth. Images courtesy of Susan Butterworth.