Atop one of the ridges that rib the pastures of central Burgundy, a modern concrete church stands out amid the unspoiled stone villages and Romanesque belfries.
Yet the Church of Reconciliation fits this long-religious part of France -- and symbolizes the latest spiritual experiment to emerge here.
The community of two dozen antique stone houses and 48 canvas tents about 200 miles south of Paris has become a mecca for those seeking a simple Christian spiritual life, free of materialism, pomp or, even, demoninations.
Each year, at least 30,000 people, mostly young people in their teens and early 20s, stop here for a day, a week or more to pray and meditate with international fellow-travelers and the community of monks who set the example.
At pratically any hour of the day or night, someone is meditating in the Church Reconciliation, a cavernous building with no chairs or benches, or in the tiny 12th centruy chapel close by in the old village.
Five bells call the community to prayer three a day in services marked by long silences and polyphonic chanting in many languages. What religious instruction the visitors take away with them comes from what Taize offers the most of -- hours of free time for meditation.
Brother roger schutz, the protestant community's founder, leaves his reclusive quarters to join the others on the church floor for the daily prayers. Those who have come to hear him speak will be disappointed, for he believes that religious conviction is best understood by "parable" rather than a sermon.
"Our way of being present in the world will be more convincing than talk," Brother Roger told a group of American college students at Taize a few years ago. "We can learn more about ourselves and about the world if we pray together than if we continue our conversation."
Various special youth assemblies held at Taize and other cities in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America in the 1970s were hailed by officials of the World Council of Churches and representatives of the Vatican, the patriarch of Constantinople and the Archbishop of Canterbury as signs of "reconciliation through ecumenical dialogue among youths.
Taize's latest experiment in revitalizing the church has been to organize student pilgrimages in the European Catholic traditon in Spain, Belgium, both Germanys and North America. Brother Roger will participate in the pilgrimages on Oct. 1 in New York City and Oct. 3 in Washington.
Brother Roger, now 65, started the community in 1940 after studying in Switzerland and France. The son of a Swiss Protestant minister, he was exposed to Catholicism as a youth. He then joined with friends at the university, who hoped to blend the mystical and liturgical traditions of Catholicism with their Reformed Protestant beliefs. They first called themselves the Community of Cluny after the Benedictine empire whose headquarters in its heyday in the Middle Ages was three miles from Taize.
They established themselves in the mansion of a former wine maker in Taize and soon gained permission form Catholic authorities to worship and celebrate communion in the 12th century Catholic church across the road. In 1949, Brother Roger and six other French and Swiss brothers took vows of chastity, poverty and obedience: since then, their ranks have grown to 85 brothers from 20 nations.
With the approval of Cardinal Marty, the archbishop of Paris, the group admitted its first Catholic brother, a Belgian doctor in 1969. Brother John a Philadelphian, is one of the 20 Catholic brothers who Joined later. "The ecumenical dimension was important to me," said Brother John, a 29-year-old Harvard University graduate. "It's a visible sign to people" that some of the religious barriers in Christendom can be broken.
What is most appealing, about Taize, according to several Americans interviewed there, is its simple, unselfish, communal way of life. Stews ladled out of huge vats are accompanied by chunks of bread, fruit and water. No one is asked to pay for the food or his bed or tent space but nearly everyone contributes voluntarily. When the pilgrims are not meditating, they sing and carry on multilingual spritual discussions.
"We are living in a very nonreligious time in Germany," said a youth worker who had brought a group of students to Taize for a week. "Here they come to be together, to live simply, to act out religion as they see it in jeans and old clothes . . . They can sit in the quiet and see candles flicker. They can have it like this for one week, and they go home and remember."
In his small study, Brother Roger reflected on Taize's vote today. Young people "have lost their taste for life," he said in the burst of words that mark his careful speaking style. "They are much less creative about the possibilities for their futures than youth were ten years ago. They seem somewhat anesthetized. But in their search for God, they are much more permeable and open."
An unassuming, fatherly man, Brother Roger sets an informal tone for the Taize brothers, wearing a plain white shirt, beige sweater, cream corduroy pants, worn loafers and a silver wedding band.
Though he generally rejects titles or special treatment, Brother Roger was awarded the international Templeton Prize in religion in 1974 for the individual who "best achieves the work of God."
"If we would follow our inclinations," Brother Roger said, "we would leave Taize and go out and live in the slums. But we stay because in the Western world there is a very great anxiety among youth that is sometimes more distressing in a sensing [than poverty]. It would be like copping out to leave."
To fulfill their vows of poverty, the brothers seek no donations, but live by their work. At Taize, some print Brother Roger's eight books and the 50,000 "Letters from Taize" that go to subscribers in 120 nations each month. Others make and sell the icons used in worship there as well as pottery, stained glass and recordings of religious music. One brother drives a tractor for the local argiculatural cooperative, while three physicians work in area hospitals and clinics.
Although it has declined to release its financial records, the community says its only property is the land for the brothers' five houses in the Taize village. In 1964, the rest of the land now covered by tents and barracks was returned to the local argricultural cooperative, founded by the community, and to which it still belongs. As a further denunciation of materialism, the community destroys all its archives at the end of each year.
The French press has suggested these practices are designed to shroud the order's finances in secrecy and to strengthen Brother Roger's position as the focus of a "personality cult." But there is no evidence at Taize that a movement has formed around the man.
Taize's recent expansion has taken it to the United States, where it is still relatively unknown. About two dozen American students drop in Taize each week during the summer, usually, as part of a trek across Europe.
But Taize has gone to the slums of America in 1978, some brothers moved a squaters into a vacant apartment building in a down-and-out neighborhood in midtown Manhattan. They formed a cooperative with 40 poor people who moved in with them. Recently, the city of New York agreed to sell them the building for a nominal sum.
"We are trying to link up contemplation and the struggle for justice and to act these out in our daily lives," explained Brother Leonard, who spends part of his time in New York. "This is the goal we hear from people who say they are searching for authenticity and commitment."