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Tribute at Memorial Service for Brother Roger of Taizé

Friday 14th October 2005

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, speaks about Brother Roger of Taizé at a service in Westminster Cathedral, London.

Possibly the most significant thing about this event is that we are commemorating someone who was known to hundreds of thousands of believers simply by the title 'Brother' and a Christian name. No titles of honour, not even a surname; all you needed to know was that this person, baptised 'Roger', was your brother, a partner in the family of Christ's brothers and sisters, a fellow-pilgrim and disciple.

The authority and compelling attractiveness of Brother Roger is all contained in this. He was not a distant figure who needed to be identified by a formal surname. He was not a hierarchical leader who needed to be approached with due veneration and awe, but an older brother in Christ's Body, whose authority lay in years of witness, years of knowing Jesus in prayer and in the service of those bruised by the need and turmoil of the world.

We often speak of how our age needs figures of authority, clear points of reference in a culture where old patterns of respect are vanishing. Sometimes we can see how Christian leaders gain the respect that is due to parents: so many will remember Pope John Paul as a sort of icon of true and trustworthy fatherhood, so many will carry in their minds the image of Mother Teresa and the children of Calcutta. But there are other no less important images to hold on to. In some circumstances the authority that matters is indeed that of the older brother – one of us, yet matured by encounter with God, sharing with the rest of us the gifts of that encounter. Christ himself is described by St Paul and by the writer to the Hebrews in just these terms, after all.

And Brother Roger, with his unfailing credibility among the young, his unobtrusive but strong personal presence, his lifelong emphasis upon solidarity with the powerless, was one of the great images in our age of real brotherhood, Christlike companionship. The whole of the community life of Taizé has, of course, been just such a sign for countless people. That it has been so owes an incalculable amount to the great and deeply loved friend of God for whom we give thanks this evening.

© Rowan Williams 2005

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