Brian Bork is a Christian Reformed campus chaplain at the University of Waterloo, in Waterloo, Ont. In his work within the campus community, Bork tries to foster worship, discussion, and fellowship in some creative ways: pub discussions, a Veritas Forum, collective kitchen nights, mentoring, and a book club. So when a colleague in chaplaincy suggested ecumenical Taizé-style worship services, Bork was excited about the opportunity.
“The world can be abrasive and distracting and . . . frenetic,” said Bork. “[Taizé-style worship] is an alternative to that. There’s space to hear yourself and hear others sing, and to hear Scripture.”
Taizé is a contemplative style of worship that originated in France. The idea to bring the services to Waterloo campus came from Bork’s colleagues at Conrad Grebel, a Mennonite college within the university. They work together on the services each month during the university year. The first service, held in the fall of 2017 in the Conrad Grebel chapel, drew about 70 people from both the college community and the surrounding area.
Since then, services have been held in the fieldstone basement of the oldest building on campus, an 1860s farmhouse called Brubacher House. About 20 to 25 people have been attending. “There are candles everywhere, and a Christ candle in the middle of a circle of chairs, and people come and sit in the circle,” said Bork. “We have a fire going in the fireplace.”
While Taizé is often a cappella, Bork and two other musicians play guitar, keyboard, and violin, leading worshipers in slowly singing eight or nine songs. This is followed by five minutes of silent contemplation and then Scripture reading. Typical of Taizé worship, there is no sermon or offering.
Reflecting on the value of the quiet, slow style of Taizé, Bork noted, “I think campuses right now in general are preoccupied with mental health and wellness, and I think this is a way of offering a deeply spiritual means to address busy lives and maybe overwhelmed lives . . . that other styles of worship might not necessarily meet in the same way.”