The community of Grandchamp is a monastic community and brings together sisters from different churches and various countries. Our ecumenical vocation commits us on the path of reconciliation among Christians and within the human family, and to respect the whole of creation. About 50 sisters form the community. Most of them live at Grandchamp, Areuse, in French-speaking Switzerland. Some sisters live in Sonnenhof, in the country near Bâle, and others live a simple presence of prayer and friendship in different places. There are sisters now in Switzerland, in the Netherlands and in France.
« Veux-tu désormais, avec tes sœurs, célébrer la nouveauté de vie que donne le Christ par l’Esprit-Saint et la laisser vivre en toi, entre nous, dans l’Église et le monde, dans toute la création, accomplissant ainsi le service dans notre communauté ? »
(2e engagement de la profession)
At the heart of our vocation there are two invitations:
COME AWAY! Seek God’s face, let Him draw near to you in solitude and silence, and make you whole by His love!
ENLARGE THE SPACE OF YOUR TENT … In your heart, don’t be afraid of being disturbed by those God sends to you, do not hold back!
In each place where we live, three pillars support our life:
Life of Prayer
Prayer is at the centre of our life: Prayer together and personal prayer, with meditation of the Word of God, the Eucharist, spiritual reading, day retreats and desert times of solitude. At Grandchamp and at Sonnenhof we meet four times a day for our common prayer, which is open to all who wish to take part. The whole of our life finds its source and meaning in the mystery of Easter, summed up in the Eucharist. There we draw our strength and hope. There also we celebrate the victory of love over evil and death, as we offer to God’s tender love the suffering in the world and in the Church that we carry within us. Our vocation to unity is authenticated and deepened in faithfulness to our common life.
In a world so hurt by divisions, God calls us to reconciliation. The vocation of our common life is to be a ‘parable of communion’, a sign, of the enrichment that is possible through our differences. Through personal and common prayer we seek to stay with the words: “ …that they may be one so that the world will believe.” (John 17)
Spiritual retreats are at origin of our community and so the welcome of guests is central to our life. Hospitality stimulates us in our vocation and enables us to live out a sharing of our humanity and ourselves as we go forward together. Many different people come: members of other communities, and individuals and groups who come to draw new strength, to stop awhile, as well as volunteers who come from all over the world to share our prayer and our work.
“Sustained by a shared momentum, rejoice. You are no longer alone; in all things you are advancing together with your sisters. With them, you are called to live the parable of community.”
(The “little source” of Taizé, adapted)
History of the community
In the early 1930’s some women from the Reformed Church of French-speaking Switzerland, known as the ‘the ladies of Morges’ rediscovered the importance of silence in their faith lives, in order to let the Word of God resonate within them, that it might bear fruit in their everyday lives. They organised spiritual retreats, to begin with just once a year, and these took place at Grandchamp. The retreats developed and were held more frequently. One of the women who began these retreats was Geneviève Micheli (1883-1961), a widow and the mother of three children who later became the first ‘Mother’ of the Community. In this way spiritual retreats constituted the rich earth from which the community would be born. Very soon the need was felt to open the house throughout the year and to provide there a permanent presence of prayer.
Sister Marthe (Marguerite Bossert) and Sister Marguerite (Marguerite de Beaumont)
Marguerite de Beaumont (1895-1986) agreed to assure this presence. She came to live in Grandchamp in 1936 and she was soon joined by Marguerite Bossert who lived there in the hamlet. With the request and then the arrival in 1940, of a third woman, Irene Burnat, the call to a common life became clearer. But it was only when Geneviève Micheli, henceforth Mother Geneviève, arrived in Grandchamp in 1944 that the community became stronger in its vocation and began to develop.
Rooted in meditation of the Word and attentive to the Church’s tradition in seeking to live community life and obedient to the Holy Spirit, the first sisters returned to the sources of monastic life through friendship and support of Anglican, orthodox and catholic communities. Carrying in themselves the pain of division among Christians, they were from the very start mindful of the prayer of Jesus for the unity of his people, and encouraged on their journey by Abbé Paul Couturier.
Meeting Brother Roger and the links with the budding community of Taizé were determining factors for what was to follow. In 1952, the first sisters made their life commitments. They adopted the Rule that Brother Roger had just completed and soon afterwards the Taizé office, that became the bases of their community and liturgical life. This was the turning point. The Rule gave scope for deepening and expanding: deepening because it rooted their prayer for unity in the reality of community life that called them to live the parable of community; an expansion because it made explicit a new way, that of living in small groups or ‘fraternities’: it was an invitation to go out and join the most needy people where they lived, to be just a presence of prayer, friendship and sharing.
Now the Community was growing. After the war young women from Germany, France and the Netherlands joined the first sisters. Responding to various requests, sisters were sent to Algeria, Lebanon, Jerusalem and elsewhere. In 1954, two years after the first life commitments in Grandchamp, two sisters set out to open a retreat house in German-speaking Switzerland, Sonnenhof in Gelterkinden (near Basle) in order to welcome German-speaking guests.
Today the community consists of about 50 sisters who come from different Churches, countries and cultures. The majority live at Grandchamp, Areuse, in French-speaking Switzerland; some are at Sonnenhof, near Basle and others are elsewhere in Switzerland, the Netherlands and France. In each place, the essentials remain the same: common praise, meditation of God’s Word, the struggle of prayer, the call to reconciliation and community life as a parable of communion, and sharing with all those who come. The community wants to be open to all as a place of listening, of finding new strength.
The Rule of Taizé
Adopted by our sisters shortly after the first commitments in 1952, the Rule of Taizé draws clear guidelines for life in community, emphasising the grace of forgiveness, given and received, encouraging us to always begin again. And so reconciliation is right at the heart of the Rule. The spirit of the Rule of Taizé still holds together our spiritual family: the Third Order of Unity, the Servants of Unity, as well as those others who live in communion with us. In community, we say together each morning a summary of the Rule, sending us out for the day:
Pray and work that God may reign
Throughout your day,
Let the Word of God breathe life into work and rest.
Maintain inner silence in all things
so as to dwell in Christ.
Be filled with the spirit of the beatitudes,
joy, simplicity, mercy.
A vocation for unity and reconciliation
The community belongs in a church context marked by the ecumenical movement of the previous century. And so, right from the start, the sisters have carried a deep concern to pray for the unity of the church.
Because Grandchamp is close to the linguistic and cultural border between the French and German speaking parts of Switzerland, the sisters were soon drawn to take steps to discover others who were different from them. By welcoming German and Dutch women into the community shortly after the Second World War, their vocation of unity expanded into a vocation of reconciliation
“Ecumenical prayer, prayer for unity, was there at the heart of the life of our community from the start, and that is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit that led the first sisters (with Mother Geneviève) to meet with Catholic and Anglican nuns. These contacts were a great help to them in their search for a life of prayer and community.”
In 1954, some sisters went to Algeria – which was at the time still a French colony – they began living there as a small group amongst the poorest people. Their experience touched the whole community. Mother Geneviève, who was French, was shocked to learn from her sisters how French soldiers could behave. This experience of deep awareness led her to realize that it was impossible to blame one side: ‘The others’ are no longer the only ones capable of wrongdoing. This understanding of Mother Geneviève spread through the whole community. Later the Dutch sisters became aware of the same thing with regard to Indonesia, a former Dutch colony, and again some years later with the arrival of the first African sister.
‘Evangelizing the depths’ a way led by the ‘Bethasda’ association, the ‘Contemplative Exercises’ begun by Father Franz Jalics SJ, and other retreats and movements have helped the sisters to discover inner healing and the importance of reconciliation with oneself and one’s own history. We cannot love the other without loving ourselves, and in order to love ourselves we have to know ourselves. « Excercices contemplatifs » initiés par le père Franz Jalics sj et d’autres retraites et mouvements ont permis aux sœurs de découvrir la guérison intérieure et l’importance de la réconciliation avec soi-même et son histoire. Nous ne pouvons pas aimer l’autre sans nous aimer nous-même, et pour nous aimer, nous avons besoin de nous connaître.
The movement of ‘Evangelical Non-violence’ that people close to the community have shared with the sisters helped us to deepen our understanding of the notion of forgiveness, which has greatly influenced this aspect of our vocation, and is reflected in one of the promises we make at our life commitment:
“Will you, renouncing all ownership, and with an attitude ever more empty handed, live with your sisters not only in the community of material goods, but even more in that of spiritual things, always urging yourself to openness of heart and to share?”
Where to find us
Soon after the life commitment of the first seven sisters in 1952, and inspired by the example of the ‘Little Sisters of Jesus’, the community sent sisters to live a presence of prayer, friendship and solidarity in other places and countries, notably in Algeria, the Holy Land, Lebanon, and also in France, in the Netherlands, in Germany, in Switzerland… Most of these stays were for a limited time. Today the community is present in the following places:
in Switzerland – in Grandchamp
Areuse, in the canton of Neuchatel, our main home. Most of the sisters live here, and the welcome of guests is still the essential element of our life. Address: Communauté de Grandchamp, Grandchamp 4, CH 2015 Areuse. Tel +41 32 842 24 94, Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
a house of silence and of welcome for guests in German-speaking Switzerland, at Gelterkinden, in the Bâle-Campagne canton. Address: Schwestern von Grandchamp, SONNENHOF Haus der Stille, CH 4460 Gelterkinden. Tel: +41 61 981 11 12, Email: email@example.com
in France: in the Ecumenical Fraternity at Lomme
near Lille, in the north of France, a fraternity that brings together six sisters from four different communities (Oblates of the Eucharist, Carmel St Joseph, Deaconesses of Reuilly and the Community of Grandchamp).
in the Netherlands: at Woudsend in Frisia
where Sister Christianne together with Maria de Groot, a Dutch woman pastor and poet, leads a life of welcoming people for the sharing of the Word and of writing.
in the Holy Land
after over 50 years of being present there, we had to close our fraternity near Jerusalem at the end of 2014, but we hope to return there, at least from time to time. At present, a sister is preparing to go and share the everyday life of the Little Sisters of Jesus in one of their fraternities.
From time to time it is not necessarily choice so much as circumstances that oblige a sister to live in a care home or in a home for disabled people – situations where we can share and live in solidarity with so many other people today.
Involvements outside the community
In the spirit of being open to the world, the community seeks links and exchanges with other communities, groups, movements and committed individuals, especially:
- Networks of religious and /or monastic communities at local, regional, international and ecumenical levels
- The Fraternity of the Suffering Servant
- Ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue
- Movements for reconciliation, justice, peace and the integrity of creation.
Becoming a sister
“Desiring as you do to give your live because of Christ and the Gospel, always keep in mind that you are advancing with him towards the light, even in the midst of your own darkness.”
(The “little source” of Taizé)
Someone interested in the community can come and get to know us by volunteering (see volunteering). If her wish becomes clearer she can speak to the sister accompanying her who will consult with the community. If both sides agree the person will come for a imd to get to know the community. A period, lasting some weeks or months, according to what is possible for her.
“The new sisters need time to mature, in order to understand the vocation in all its consequences.”
(The “little source” of Taizé, adapted)
Next comes the stage of the postulate, which is a time to try this kind of life and test the call without being fully in the community. A sister accompanies the postulants and novices.
If the desire to go further deepens and the person still wants to pursue the idea of joining the community, she becomes a novice and wears our habit. The noviciate has a first part lasting three to four years. In general it is a time of learning in order to know more fully what is specific to our community, its prayer life and the ministry of welcome and hospitality, and the monastic commitments of poverty, chastity and obedience. The second part again lasts four or five years before making profession, that is to make a life commitment and become a ‘professed sister’
The Spiritual Family
From the start, the community was surrounded by people who cherished the desire to live the same spirituality, but remaining in the everyday life of the world. From these a whole spiritual family was born: the Third Order of Unity, the Servants of Unity, as well as those others who live in communion with us. The spirit of the Rule of Taizé and the vocation for unity still bind us all together.
Servants of Unity, faithful to the Church of our Baptism, we pray for the visible unity of Christians and of the world, “So that God may be all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). ‘A vocation of contemplative prayer within ordinary life in the world.’
The Third Order of Unity
The Third Order of Unity is a movement in the spirit of Grandchamp and Taizé that enables its members to live a more ordered spiritual life, in the spirit of the Beatitudes and seeking Christian unity. The lectionary of the community links us together in prayer and the daily reading of the same gospel strengthens us. Today groups exist in different places in Switzerland, in Germany, in the Netherlands and in Benin. For more information of The Order of Unity …