Diocese of Portsmouth

    Young pilgrims enjoy trip to Taizé

    Children and Young People
    25 July 2023

    YOUNG pilgrims from parishes across our diocese were given an eye-opening spiritual experience during a week in Taizé.

    Bishop Jonathan led the group of young adults on the pilgrimage to the ecumenical Taizé Community, where they were able to meet thousands of young Christians from around the world. They enjoyed reflective worship, community living and silent prayer together.

    The 13 pilgrims from our diocese linked with others from the Diocese of Norwich and the Diocese of Bath and Wells as they travelled to the religious community. Each of our pilgrims was aged between 18 and 30, in line with Bishop Jonathan’s vision to deepen the discipleship of young people. The daily programme included worship three times a day, the sharing of domestic tasks and the opportunity to study the Bible in small groups.

    The Rev Will Alvarez, 29, who has recently been ordained and is curate at St Faith’s, Lee-on-the-Solent, said: “It’s not often that you get the opportunity to work and serve alongside other Christians from around the world. We were all given jobs and I was on food distribution. It was great to build relationships as we worked together.

    “It was my first time there, and I really enjoyed the times of reflective worship and the chance to study the Bible with others. It was a really significant time for me and for many of the others who came.”

    Bishop Jonathan with some of the young people at Taizé
    Bishop Jonathan with some of the young people at Taizé
    The Portsmouth group as they prepared to leave Taizé
    The Portsmouth group as they prepared to leave Taizé

    Rebecca Gemmell, aged 18, from St Paul’s Church, Sarisbury Green, was leading worship in her church when Bishop Jonathan approached her to suggest going to Taizé. She knew none of the others who went from our diocese, but enjoyed making friends.

    “It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” she said. “It’s so different to how everyone leads their real lives. There’s no technology, and it’s hard to take that kind of break from society in day-to-day life at home. You had nothing to worry about, including all your food was provided, and it was jam-packed with fun stuff and amazing times.

    “My job was to work on the recycling bins – physically jumping on things to compact them. We did go straight from that into worship, and I might have liked to have a shower first! But both the weather and the worship were amazing.

    “They really value silence, so having 10 minutes of silence at the start of each worship time – three times a day – was a massive part of it. To have half an hour of pure silence each day was really nice to have. As a worship leader, I loved the songs. Repeating the same phrase many times really solidifies it in your brain. The simplest words can mean so much.

    “I was part of the choir they put together as well. And I’d hope to bring back some of what I’ve learned for when we lead worship at church.”

    And university student Pip Collins-White, 19, from St Mary’s Church, Fratton, said: “It was a really lovely experience. I was blown away by the community and the tranquility and the peace there. I loved the way that it unites Christians from different traditions, backgrounds and beliefs, and we were able to have productive discussions and understand each other much better.

    “Personally, it has changed the way that I think about my faith, and I’ve found a deeper way of connecting with God. I hadn’t been before, but I’d heard about it from people who are a bit older than me, who encouraged me to go. There is a certain routine, which you have to get accustomed to, but it certainly helps you to focus on the important things, rather than what you’re going to eat or what clothes to wear.

    “It was also lovely meeting people from across the diocese, from different traditions, and interesting to see how they worship. It was great to learn more and to think about how we can work together to share an understanding of God.”

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