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amandaHoly Spirit, you breathe upon what is fragile. You kindle a flame of living charity and love that remains within us, still alive under the ashes. And through you, even the fears and the nights of our heart can become the dawn of a new life. (Brother Roger of Taizé)

Good morning, My name is Amanda Higby and I have been coming to St. Philip’s for 8 years now. I sang in the choir for 5 years, and I am currently serving as an acolyte, as well as participating in the SPY program.

I started here at St. Philip’s in 5th grade after switching from St. Albans Episcopal Church. I do not remember a whole lot about St. Albans, but I do remember the day I started Sunday school at St. Philip’s. I walked into the classroom, not knowing what to expect and nervous about making new friends. I looked around the room at everyone, and they gave me a blank stare for a moment until the teacher greeted me warmly with open arms and offered me cookies. I knew I would like it here. Immediately, this little blonde girl asked me if I wanted to sit down next to her and pointed to an empty chair. I sat down and we instantly started talking and giggling. April Huckleberry is now as close to me as a sister would be. Long-lasting friendships are not the only thing that St. Philip’s has given to me.

I journeyed to England and France on the J2A, Journey To Adulthood, pilgrimage during the summer of 2012. The knowledge that I attained throughout my trip was overwhelming. After spending time in England, touring several cathedrals including St. Paul’s, Canterbury Cathedral, and Salisbury Cathedral, we traveled to France and spent 5 days in Taizé.

If you do not know about the Taizé Community, it is a monastery in the south of France where 100 brothers from over 30 different countries dedicate their time living in the spirit of kindness, simplicity and serving God. Thousands of youth and adults from around the world visit Taizé to experience the prayers, music, and meditation. When my group arrived at Taizé, we had no idea what to expect, luckily, we were open to anything.

The first thing we got to do was attend the evening service. We all sat together in the back of the Sanctuary and listened, soaking in the breathtaking beauty and awe. There were 3 services a day and during each service, there was a period of silence which lasted for about 10-12 minutes. At first, the silence seemed to last forever  and it was very uncomfortable! But after attending a few services, the silent period went by very quickly and I even wished it could have been longer.

Hundreds of people of all ages were there with us sitting in the Sanctuary on the floor, and even though we did not know one another,  somehow we were all connected. The beauty of the Taizé services is that they are completely in French, and although none of us were fluent in the language, we still understood what was going on. Throughout the day, all of us were split into separate study groups of kids our own age. I was put in a group with 6 Germans and my proctor was from Spain. Everyone in the group spoke English during our Bible study, and in our downtime they taught me songs in German. Because I told them I lived in the desert, they taught me a song called “My Little Green Cactus.” They had lots of questions as they had never actually seen a real cactus before.

Taizé worship includes the celebration of Holy Week every weekend.  On the friday night before we left, the Veneration of the Cross service took place. This service included bringing a large wooden cross and placing it on the floor in the middle of the Sanctuary. First, the brothers went up and knelt around the cross praying, after they got up and left, everyone was allowed to take their turn by getting on their knees and waiting to encircle the cross to pray. Only about 6 people at a time fit around it, we crawled on our knees in the candlelight and waited in silence except for the constant sounds of chanting. Many put their heads on the cross or touched it in some way to help them feel more of a connection. It was so moving that we were in tears, I think our leaders were too. I will never forget how at peace everybody looked in that moment in the candlelight, purely soaking up the presence of God.

I learned through reflection, worship, and solitude about the power of prayer, living life simply and about myself as an Episcopalian. The experience that I took away from Taizé filled me with knowledge, awareness, and beauty. I will forever carry these memories with me throughout my spiritual journey, along with the lessons that St. Philip’s has taught me.

Bless the lord, my soul and bless God’s holy name. Bless the lord my soul, who leads me into life. Amen.

—Amanda Higby
Presented as the sermon on
Youth Recognition Sunday, 18 May 2014

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