Before Feb. 10, the two Catholics and three Baptists had never met. But after a Taizé service at New Northside Missionary Baptist Church in north St. Louis, they opened up.
When they broke off from the larger group to discuss trust and fear, laughter erupted a couple times as they learned a little about their differences and similarities. Other times they listened closely as each described struggles they've had and how those difficulties led to a stronger faith when they realized God was at their side.
"Despite everything I went through, that's when I really got to know God, when my trust in Him deepened," said Pat McCarty, a member of New Northside. "I've been through some times that weren't easy, but I felt peace. He just let me know. He said, 'I told you I'd never leave you.'"
Carol Russell, who also attends New Northside, said she witnessed God work a miracle when doctors said her friend wouldn't live through the night. "I said, 'God let it be your will,' then my friend came out of it, left the hospital and came home," Russell said. "I learned to trust God."
Michael Newman, who attends the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, described struggles he faced, trying to find "more to life" than just a good job, life in the suburbs and material things. It led him to St. Louis, and he's glad he put his faith in God and left his struggles behind.
The two others — Ramona Neumann of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in south St. Louis and Regina Franklin, who attends New Northside and another Baptist church — had similar experiences.
The brothers of the Taizé Community of France, in collaboration with churches of different Christian denominations, are leading a pilgrimage of trust in the St. Louis area. At a time when fear and violence have seemingly become commonplace, the pilgrimage helps people of diverse backgrounds pray and discuss ways of building trust. The highlight is a gathering over Memorial Day weekend, May 26-29.
Until then, evenings of prayer and reflection such as the one at New Northside are being held throughout the metropolitan area. Taizé (pronounced Ti'zay) prayer is an ecumenical meditative service. It comes from the Christian monastic community of Taizé in the Burgandy region of France.
Silence is observed before and during the service. Songs are simple, short melodies that are repeated.
The silence and meditation was new to the Baptists from New Northside. "We don't do that," Russell said with a laugh. "It was one of the best parts tonight."
McCarty called the silence relaxing and "so rewarding. I felt Christ was there." Franklin agreed, noting that "it was totally different. It's between you and God, and I liked that."
Everyone is welcome to participate in the pilgrimage of trust, but the focus is on young adults, between the ages of 18 and 35. Young adults from throughout North America will come together as a culmination of a year-long initiative to build trust in the St. Louis area.
The Taizé brothers' charism of ecumenism and reconciliation promotes an authentic encounter of others, especially those who are different.
The idea of holding the ecumenical pilgrimage of trust in St. Louis came from Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, who wrote a letter to the community after learning of one that took place on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 2013 supported by the tribal council and prepared in collaboration with young Native Americans from South Dakota. In inviting the Taizé Community, Archbishop Carlson underlined his concern for the need to rebuild relations between factions in the area, especially after the events in Ferguson following a police-involved shooting death in August 2014 that seemed to split the community.
"Right now we're so divided nationwide," Connie Perry said. "Unless we start to come together and not see color and differences, we won't come together with Christ and have safety in our community."
Rev. Howard Perry, one of the ministers at New Northside, said it was good for people to experience something different. "We're all God's children. We're all servants and serve each other," he said.
According to Russell, Christ makes the difference. "It's not Obama or Trump that's going to change things. It's us Christians — because of the love we have," she said.
>> Pilgrimage of Trust
On Memorial Day weekend in 2017, hundreds of young adults will come to St. Louis from throughout the Midwest and beyond. Participants will be offered hospitality by local families. The weekend will involve times of prayer, Bible reflections, workshops on themes related to trust, justice and reconciliation and a citywide prayer walk to express the desire to work together for a more human society. While the workshops will be targeted to young adults, the prayer portions will be open to all. Many of the events will be held at St. Louis University, but workshops will involve visits to places of suffering and hope in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
A website, www.pilgrimageoftruststl.com, has a description of local events in the pilgrimage, registration information and a video on the event. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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>> Upcoming Taize events
The St. Louis Pilgrimage of Trust will be held Memorial Day weekend at St. Louis University. It will begin with Evening Prayer on Friday, May 26, and conclude with afternoon prayer on Monday May 29.
Leading up to the pilgrimage, Evenings of Trust are scheduled throughout the St. Louis area to help prepare for the main event in May. Upcoming events are:
• Monday, Feb. 20, 7-9 p.m. at Assumption Church, 403 N Main St. in O'Fallon
• Thursday, Feb. 23, 7-9 p.m. at Fontbonne University, 6800 Wydown Blvd. in Clayton
• Monday, March 6, 7-9 p.m. at Queen of All Saints Church, 6603 Christopher Drive in Oakville.
• Tuesday, March 14, 7-9 p.m. at Hope United Church of Christ, 6273 Eichelberger St. in south St. Louis
• Saturday, March 25, 7:30-9:30 p.m. at St. Dominic Priory, 3407 Lafayette Ave. in St. Louis
• Wednesday, March 29, 7-9 p.m. at Westside Missionary Baptist Church, 4675 Page Blvd. in north St. Louis
• Friday, March 31, 7-9 p.m. at St. Margaret of Scotland Church, 3854 Flad Ave. in south St. Louis
• Sunday, April 2, 7-9 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 600 N. Euclid Ave. in the Central West End of St. Louis
• Monday, April 3, 7-9 p.m., Christ the King Church, 7316 Balson Ave., University City
• Tuesday, April 11, 7-9 p.m., Theology on Tap at the Kirkwood Station Brewing Company, 105 E. Jefferson Ave. in Kirkwood