Brother Roger Schutz, a Protestant monk and the founder of ecumenical Taizé Christian community in Burgundy, France, was stabbed to death during a service there late last week.
"Given all the current controversies surrounding so many religious leaders, Brother Roger was the last for whom any would have predicted a violent death," London Times religion correspondent Ruth Glendill wrote in a personal column.
The Protestant leader was a symbol to the entire world of Christian reconciliation. The unique Taizé community includes monks from Lutheran, Anglican, free church evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions. In an earlier piece I wrote about the death of John Paul II I noted that it was Brother Roger who publicly received Communion from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) at the funeral. This was an astounding and powerful symbol that violates Catholic law in my understanding. But it also demonstrates the kind of respect the entire Christian world had for this unusual man.
Thousands of evangelicals have visited this community in the village of Taizé for years now. One reporter has noted that “What drew them, and thousands upon thousands of other Christians (there were 2,500 at the vespers service when Brother Roger was killed), was worship of Christ in very simple form”
Brother Roger’s monastic community "has never advertised, or recruited, or marketed its style of worship," Steve Tomkins added in a recent BBC article. "But all over Britain, and throughout the world, there are churches running weekly Taizé services, or who incorporate its style and approach into services."
The Taizé Songbook captures something of the spirit of the community with regard to worship music when it says: "Song is one of the most essential elements of worship. Short chants, repeated again and again, give it a meditative character. Using just a few words, they express a basic reality of faith, quickly grasped by the mind.”
The music of Taizé has a wide appeal to young and old, regardless of ationality, culture or religious tradition noted Christianity Today. It is, very simply put, the Word of God set to music—its constant gentle repetitive quality allows deep contemplation and prayer on the sentiments that it expresses. This fact offends some fundamentalists and rationalists but its blend of biblical truth, with the human spirit and real mystery, is surely correct.
Christianity Today further noted last week that Brother Roger’s long life and legacy will be more than Christian unity and his unique modernization of ancient worship styles. As CT noted an editorial in The Telegraph put it well: “His life also successfully reconciled the tension between active engagement in the world and the monastic withdrawal that prefigures the hereafter. In a recent public letter, he observed how we must ‘love life on earth, and at the same time long for a beyond, for a life that will never end.’ His death, tragic as it must be for his followers, has released him into the life that will never end.”
Joel Edwards, General Director of the Evangelical Alliance U.K., spoke for many European evangelicals when he noted: "We are deeply shocked and dismayed to hear about the stabbing of Brother Roger," Edwards said. "He had many friends among the evangelical community who valued his devotion to God and his selfless service to others for over half a century. Many people in our membership will have spent time with the Taizé Community over the years and will have drawn comfort and inspiration from being with fellow believers from around the world. Our thoughts and prayers are with those grieving at this time."
Brother Roger’s alleged killer is a 36-year-old Romanian woman who had visited Taizé for a week in June and was considered psychologically fragile. One source noted that the woman "managed to work her way into the middle of the choir. She moved towards him, but we didn’t notice anything untoward because we had our backs to her. We heard the scream, we turned round, but it was already over." The Associated Press quotes more detail from Brother Emile: "It happened very fast. There were some screams. We turned around. He was wounded. We carried him out of the church so people didn’t see the terrible part. . . . She slit his throat."
What does this mean for evangelicals? We have lost a most unusual Reformed Protestant leader. We may not know his name in most of our circles but his influence has been huge. He dared to attempt great things, though simple things, that few would even consider possible. In childlike faith Brother Roger modeled something that should inspire all of us to believe God for the seemingly impossible. His life, and death, is a model to me of what it means to live and die well even when one dies tragically through a violent act. His inspiring life will still touch many in death. I pray others arise to take his place and thus hasten the day when Catholics and Protestants face their differences in grace and truth. Brother Roger, RIP.