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Feeling stressed? Virtual "Taize Tuesdays" might help

Feeling stressed? Virtual "Taize Tuesdays" might help

COVID-19 Fresh Expressions

For Shelley Tworoger, something good came out of the debilitating back pain she was suffering in 2006.
It led her to a Taize contemplative worship.

She felt an immediate connection to its centering prayer and music consisting of simple phrases repeated over and over
to create a meditative experience to connect with the Divine and each other.

“It was a time in my life when I was feeling pretty hopeless,” Tworoger recalled. “I went to a Taize service and it brought peace to me. I knew that I was surrounded by people who were praying with me.”

From then on, she and her husband, Michael, embarked on a Taize journey, visiting places of worship that offered the
service. It changed their lives.

Michael and Shelley Tworoger

The couple, who relocated from Boston 2 ½ years ago, now lead “Taize Tuesdays” at 7:30 p.m. at The Portico campus of Hyde Park United Methodist Church in downtown Tampa.

With social distancing now the norm because of COVID-19, the event now is offered virtually on Facebook Live in what they say is a “carefully curated brief Taizé experience so that we remain Spiritually centered and connected.”

The service is part of Portico’s “Porch Nights” program, which offers unique activities to draw in the community outside the congregation.

In Portico’s intimate Henderson Chapel, softened by muted lighting and candlelight, Tworoger plays keyboards and leads the praise in both song and words at the free public service. Her husband accompanies her with the hand drums and guitar.

“I know it has contributed to my physical healing,” she said.  “Even more important, it’s been a spiritual lift.”

And Taize has provided yet another benefit for Tworoger, an epidemiologist and Moffitt Cancer Center's Associate Center

Director of Population Science: The ecumenical prayer service is a stress reliever from the intensity of her job.

“Sometimes we exhibit peace on the outside, but don’t feel it deep inside,” she said. “Here is where I find true peace. I put all my energies into the music. I find the space to reset my frame of mind and be more optimistic. I always leave feeling better than when I arrive.” 

When Taize could be held in front of people, candles helped set the mood for prayerful meditation.

The practice dates to 1940 when Brother Roger Schutz, a Swiss Christian leader and monastic brother, settled in Taize, a village in the south of Burgundy, France.

With a small loan, he purchased a house and outbuildings that had been empty for years, with the purpose of setting up a community to shelter Jews and other war refugees. His vision was a safe place that offered peace and reconciliation.

With the barest of resources, Brother Roger and his sister, Genevieve, were able to fulfill their mission under the radar for a couple of years. But the Germans eventually learned of their refuge, and they were forced to flee to Geneva in 1942.

After the war ended, they returned, providing care for orphans, German prisoners of war, and others.

Word of the mission spread. On Easter Day, 1949, Brother Roger and six other men formed the Taize Community, committing to a life of celibacy and simplicity together. Instead of focusing on preaching, the followers instead stressed a spiritual quest that encouraged a common prayer experience from within.

Though Brother Roger was murdered in a knife attack by a mentally ill Romanian woman in 2005, the Taize Community is still thriving today. Nearly 100 brothers -- who come from nearly three dozen countries and several denominations -- gather three times a day, seven days a week, to worship, with repetitive prayer set to simple music.

Their simple approach to faith attracts thousands of pilgrims to Taize annually. And their method of prayer has been adopted in Catholic and Protestant houses of worship around the world.

The Rev. Justin LaRosa, who pastors the Portico campus, got his first introduction to this contemplative prayer last year at a “Seeking Stillness” retreat where Tworoger led a 30-minute Taize service.

“It was completely transformative for me,” he recalls. “It’s a grounding experience that puts you in a place to commune with God and cultivate your relationship with Him with no distractions.”

Portico’s mission is to serve as a gathering place for “conversation, connection and community change.” LaRosa felt the addition of a monthly Taize worship would meet that goal, and Tworoger agreed to help launch the initiative. The pastor also incorporates Taize’s centering prayer in his 5 p.m. Sunday service once a month.

Pete Kelly and his wife, Sue, are grateful for the arrival of the Taize worship at Portico, especially the Tuesday offering.

“We like to do something mid-week, apart from Sunday worship,” said Kelly, a south Tampa attorney. “We tried this because we’re always up for a different faith experience.”

If Kelly arrives stressed out from work issues or other life distractions, he knows by the time he departs he will feel refreshed and relaxed.

“Sometimes the distractions of life prevent you from keeping your focus, but not here,” he said. “Everything else is shut out except the words and music that bring you closer to God. Through this worship, I am reminded of God’s grace and how grateful I am to have it.”

Given the turmoil fracturing the country -- from the coronavirus scare to political discord -- Michelle Collins believes there is no better time to embrace Taize worship.

“The brothers first held these services decades ago as a way of restoration and reconciliation. We could use some of that these days,” said Collins, director of communications for the Florida-Bahamas Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Tampa.

“When we can come together in community with simple song and silence, we can be strengthened and we can be healed. We can find that common ground.”

In 2013, Collins joined a young adults group on a pilgrimage to the Taize community in France. The experience awakened her in a way she didn’t expect. So, she was thrilled when Portico launched Taize Tuesdays. She played the flute at some of the services.

“The repetitive choruses, the simple music, the contemplative atmosphere and the global aspect of it, singing in different languages. I have learned to appreciate the silence that I don’t find in other worship services,” Collins said. “All of this in one setting has helped me to encounter God in a deeper part of myself.”

--Michelle Bearden is a freelance writer from Tampa.

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