NORMAN — During Lent, Thursday evenings at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church has been dedicated to offering a space of quite reflection and prayer.
For the last few weeks the church has offered a Taizé service at 7 p.m. on Thursday. Also offered on Thursday is a labyrinth from noon to 8 p.m. Both services will be offered through Lent with the last service being March 21.
Taizé services originated in a community in France around 1940 and include a sung prayer service that alternates between scripture reading and simple songs that are two lines long that are sung over and over.
“There will be small silences between each song and after a scripture and in the middle of the service, there will be five minutes of silence. There will be prayers from the people. It ends with songs and more silence,” Venita MacGorman, director of music ministries at St. Stephen’s said. “It’s interesting to watch people getting used to silence. The first time you do it, that five minutes will seem really long. The more they get into the habit of this kind of worship, then they will start thinking that this period is kind of short and they need more silence.”
One of the main characteristics of the Taizé service is there is no visible leadership at the front of the sanctuary.
“A lot of times the people who are drawn to Taizé services are people that at sometime in their life have been damaged by a church or by an individual. In this service where there is no personality, no one person is in charge. Sometimes that is very healing,” MacGorman said.
By combining the Taizé services with the labyrinth, participants are able to enjoy two Christian traditions.
“One of the things that I think is important is that both the labyrinth and Taizé service are interdenominational sorts of worship. They were both deliberately constructed to be,” MacGorman said.
Kay Antinoro, director of educational ministries at St. Stephen’s, said that the Santa Rosa labyrinth is hand-painted on canvas and available in the church’s community hall. Antinoro also offers a journal for participants to jot down their feelings after walking the labyrinth, art supplies and smooth stones for individuals to carry during their walk. Children are also encouraged to walk the labyrinth.
“It’s a whole body type of experience. It’s not a maze, you can’t get lost. There is one way to the center and the same way back out. It’s a contemplative prayer experience in that you walk in and the typical way is you release things on the way in and then you can stand in the center as long as you want and receive. Then you will return back into the world as you walk out. There is no right or wrong way to walk it,” Antinoro said.
The labyrinth takes about 20 minutes on average to complete and is open to the community.
“I find a lot of times people get nervous about praying and people think, ‘I’ve got to pray a prayer that goes on for three and a half minutes and is poetic and uses proper grammar and sounds like what a minister would say.’ But sometimes you don’t need words to pray and that is a good thing about a labyrinth. Because you can pray with your feet even if you have no words to express what you’re feeling. You just walk those lines and let things happen to you.” Senior Pastor Amy Venable said.
Venable also sees the labyrinth as a metaphor for life.
“Because people come into our lives and then they disappear and new ones come in. It’s because they are turning right, we are turning left. We’re coming, they are going. That’s just the way it is and it’s natural and beautiful,” Venable said.
For more information on the Taizé services or the labyrinth, call 321-4988 or visit the church at 1801 W. Brooks St.