A bell rings and worshippers in the candle-lit sanctuary at St. Luke's Episcopal Church sit
It is the moment they have been awaiting, a time to connect to God in the silence. They have chanted hymns, prayed, read Scripture and meditated on the life of a saint. Now, they are listening for God's voice.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Jennie Sigmon of Patton lights a candle from the Paschal candle to symbolize her sharing in the light of Christ during a Taize service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Altoona
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Dorothy Benton takes part in a reading at the Taize service held at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Altoona.
The practices are part of a Taize prayer service held the third Thursday of the month at the church.
"It follows the pattern of prayer services held in a monastery," Deacon Jack Hoffer said. "It has a nice rhythm. The songs and prayers follow a specific pattern."
Taize worship takes its name from a village in Burgundy, France, where a community devoted to prayer was founded in the 1940s by Brother Roger Schultz of Switzerland.
From its beginnings, Taize has grown into a community of brothers from major denominations worldwide, and prayer services are held every day in the French village. During its annual international youth meeting, as many as 7,000 young adults have been known to take part in services which are held three times a day yearround.
Outside of Taize, the service can be adopted and used by any Christian denomination.
In addition to silence, another characteristic of the service is repetition.
At St. Luke's Church, songs are played twice on the piano, then sung by the canter before others join in.
Hoffer said the verse is repeated to allow worshippers to focus.
"It quiets the soul and allows you to concentrate your thoughts," he said.
For Charlotte Cooper of Tyrone, the service is more about meditation and prayer than a regular prayer service.
"When I am here, I feel peaceful. I feel God's holding me and anything I may be experiencing," she said. "It allows me to sit quietly and listen for God to speak to me or his words to come to me."
Joyce and Vincent Remillard of Ebensburg first saw the word Taize on a church sign while spending the winter in Green Valley, Ariz. The word resurfaced while Joyce was reading a spiritual book by author Nevada Barr.
As members of St. Luke's, they inquired about the service and learned that the Rev. Christine Purcell, the former interim rector, Jim Dengler, organist and choirmaster, and Hoffer were planning on introducing it in March.
They have not missed a Taize service since.
"It allows me to reach into the deepest part of myself," Vincent said. "I never have time to do that in my busy day. I think the silence does that."
For Joyce, the service allows her to connect to the spiritual past through the meditation on the saints and the music.
She explained that everyone has a link to the past, whether it be their family tree or their faith history.
"It's spiritual. It's the religious part of your past," Joyce said.
She finds the service therapeutic.
"It's very peaceful," she said.
"I feel cleansed, refreshed," when the service ends, Vincent said.
"I'm relaxed," Joyce said, "Your shoulders are down."
Hoffer said the service was started because, "it's a style of worship we thought the congregation might enjoy. No one is preaching. There is no Eucharist."
He said a lot of churches are offering a more contemporary service with praise bands.
"We didn't want to make that leap," he said, "but wanted to offer a different type of service."
He said St. Luke's has found the service to be very worthwhile and the service is well attended.
He believes it is the only regularly scheduled Taize service in Altoona, but mentioned that State College Presbyterian Church holds a weekly Taize service. University Mennonite and University Baptist and Brethren churches in State College hold monthly services.
The services at St. Luke's are planned by Hoffer and Dengler. They work together on selecting the music and Hoffer provides a meditation, usually on a saint whose feast day is being celebrated.
The November Taize will honor St. Hilda, abbess of Whitby. Hoffer said he likes to provide meditations on male and female saints. Hildegard of Bingen and Mary Magdalene also have been represented.
Hoffer first learned about the meditative worship when he lived in New York and a priest was taken a group on a pilgrimage to Taize, France. It is his desire to make a pilgrimage there someday.
He said, "[a Taize service] is a wonderful way of calming yourself. It is a real time of refreshment for me. It calms me and energizes me."