Wednesday, May 3, 2017

We go to Church at the Caffé

Tower District, Fresno, California
Taizé in Tower, Fresno, California
I (Mindy) enjoy the sound of languages I don’t speak or understand...which is essentially every language except English. However, I don’t seem to hear the distinctions in tonal languages, and (I realized on Sunday) I have a limited pronunciation database.

Facebook informed me that “Taizé in Tower” was a regular thing that meets in a coffee shop in the Tower District of Fresno on Sunday nights, and we were looking for a Sunday evening worship service. We hadn’t been to a Taizé service before, so we figured the situation would be ideal.

Just before 6:00, we parked next to Mia Cuppa and went inside. We looked around from the doorway, but didn’t see any obvious gathering of people. At the counter, I asked, “Is this where 'Tie zaye' is meeting?”

The barista looked a little confused.

(I don’t know what, if any language, would pronounce T A I Z E that way, but in my head, it’s the proper pronunciation. I was wrong.)

Another barista came to the rescue. “The 'Taye zaye' service is in the back room. You can go right back.”  

books for sale at Mia Cuppa Caffe, Fresno, California
Dean thought it would be only polite to buy something, so I got a cup of coffee and he got a soda. Then we headed to the other room. Just inside, a small table held song books and a stack of cards explaining the origins of Taizé as a form of worship.*

The walls of Mia Cuppa's back room were filled with art (the room is also used for painting parties, silent movies, and open mic nights), and the focal point in front of the room was a painted cross surrounded by (electric) candles. There were chairs along the back of the room and benches along the sides, but a rug in front of the cross was also used for seating. A few people had already arrived, and they were mostly chatting and setting things set up.

One woman, Natalie, came over to greet us. She told us that this week’s service was a special once a month celebration recognizing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and celebrating and seeking unity in the Church. When she asked what brought us to the gathering, we explained that we were visiting different churches every week and writing about them. She and Dean talked while I prowled around the room taking pictures.

Dean asked her what she appreciated about Taizé in Tower. She told him, “The quietness fosters connecting with God. The other thing is the singing which sounds like something different but…”

We met her husband Cory, too. He said “I love the liturgy. It has its own shape, but different from Catholic or Anglican.” He added, “There isn’t the Eucharist” [what my tradition would call some churches, if you don't belong to the denomination, it’s not okay to participate] “so everyone can be a part of the whole service.”

Natalie introduced us to Christina, who visited the Taizé community last summer and came back with a desire to share the worship experience she’d been part of.

order of worship, Taize in Tower, Fresno, CA
The service started as a few people continued to enter the side door (we later saw the sign that marked the entrance from the outside). The worship service began with Christina quietly announcing the number of the song we’d be singing. The first page of the songbook had the order of worship, and most songs were only a line or two, repeated up to a dozen times without accompaniment. Three were in English, two in Spanish, and (I think) three in Latin. A woman sitting near me had a binder with the music for the songs, and I was glad to follow her lead on harmonies.

Interspersed with the songs were readings from the Old Testament (I Samuel 16), Psalms (19), New Testament (I Corinthians), and Gospels (Matthew 5). There were prayers from various people, and one ten-minute long stretch of quiet.

The service took less than an hour, ending with an announcement that those who’d like to continue singing were welcome to stay; most joined in for one more song: happy birthday to Natalie (sung first in the standard manner and then more in the style of a Gregorian chant).

People gathered around the room to chat, some getting a drink from the glass water container on the bar in the back of the room. We met several people, including Anthony, who’s part of St James, an Anglican cathedral. He said he’d been looking for a service that was low key, something people could invite others to.

Mark, one of the owners of the cafe (and the artist who'd made many of the paintings in the room) had the same idea, saying, “Can you use my space? It can be good to be someplace other than a church.”

After awhile, Christina stood on the stage and invited the group to a sushi restaurant down the block. We couldn’t go, but we appreciated that several people asked us to join the group.

We heard about two themes within the Taizé community. One is “the love of Christ compels us.” The other is “We regard no one from a human point of view.” From where we sat (on the carpet, a little to the left, near the back), Taizé in Tower works hard to live those concepts.

Service Length: 51 minutes
Sermon Length: no sermon; apparently Brother Roger didn’t much like sermons
Visitor Treatment: It’s a small group, so newcomers stand out. We were greeted by several people before and after the service.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: Natalie sent us an email on Sunday evening.
Our Rough Count: 28 people
Probable Ushers’ Count: no ushers
Snacks: water (a variety of food and drink was available for purchase in the cafe)
Musicians: none (or 28 vocalists)
Songs: “Come and Fill our Hearts”
“En Nuestra Oscuridad” (translated on the page)
"Jesus Christ"
"Wait for the Lord"
"Kyrie 13"
"Bendigo al Senor"
"Jubilate Deo"
"Da Pacem Cordeum"
"Distance to Church: 6.5 miles
Open WiFi: no
Tie/Suit Count: 0
Church Website:

Taize in Tower at Mia Cuppa Caffe in Fresno, California
*to quote from the card: “A Taizé service is a worship experience comprised of simple-meditative songs, readings from Scripture, and times of collective and spontaneous prayer designed to help silence the soul in the presence of God. A Taizé service reflects the ethos of the Taizé community in France, which was established by Brother Roger during World War II. Brother Roger’s vision was to create an ecumenical community where members could focus on pursuing simplicity, compassion, and joy.”