Calvin Worship Symposium 2011 – Reflections

You can look at all the Workshops and Services here.

Last week I traveled, along with about 1500 people from around the globe into Grand Rapids, MI to celebrate the season of winter.  Okay, not really…but it was probably the favorite speaker intro joke.  Actually we were there to participate in Symposium and to celebrate the work of our Trinitarian God amidst an impressive collection of congregations from around the World hosted by Calvin College and Seminary .  I arrived into Grand Rapids on Wednesday evening and began my time sharing supper with around 150 visitors from Asia, Africa, India, and South America who were attending and leading various parts of the Symposium. What a great start!

The theme of Calvin’s Symposium on Worship this year was “We thank God every time we remember you (Phil. 1:3)  based in the book of Philippians, with all of the services being based in a section of Philippians.  This year the entire Calvin campus is celebrating and exploring the book of Philippians.  To get an idea of how exhaustive this project is take a lot at the book they published to lead their year.  Pretty amazing.  Pj and I are going to use this for devotionals for the next month or so.

Here’s a few of the resources and services that they are undertaking in Philippians this year:

Dwelling with Philippians: A Conversation with Scripture through Image and Word (Eerdmans, 2010)
Feature story on how churches are studying and reflecting on Philippians
Worship Service Outlines from Philippians
Songs for Philippians
Calvin Symposium on Worship 2011, with worship services and workshops on themes from Philippians
Singing the New Testament, a songbook that includes 10 songs based on Philippians


On Thursday, the symposium began with a foretaste of the conference at large.  The speaking portion of the service was led by John Oihoma Eigege (Nigerian) and Karen Campbell (Scottish).  The music was upbeat, and a mix of global song, spiritual, and traditional hymnody.

The theme focused around remembering our Partnership in the Gospel (Phil 1:1-11).  We say songs in a number of different languages and the leadership represented 4 or 5 nationalities.  I also enjoyed the emphasis on remembering our baptism. We sang Reuben Morgan’s song “What the Lord has Done in me” and were invited to use water provided in bowls as we entered and exited to capture this reality.  A group of students rendered a really excellent scripted reading of the Philippians text.

The rest of the day on Thursday was broken into day-long seminar’s where you could choose one.

They were: 1) The Gospel According to You: Using Your Story to Tell God’s Story; 2) Re-Membering the Psalms: Fresh Ways of Praying and Singing the Psalms in Christian Worship; 3) Sermons, Music and Visual Arts that Engage Worshipers of All Ages; 4) Open Letter to the People: Mono-prints; 5) The Art of Worship Team Leadership; 6) From Scripture Reading to Scripture Proclamation: There’s a Difference! 7) Nurturing Faith in Children Youth and Adults and; 8) One Kingdom: Worship & Welcome for Multi- cultural Communities.

I was invited as a past grant recipient to speak along with 6 other grant recipients in seminar #3) Sermons, Music and Visual Arts that Engage Worshipers of All Ages.  We all spoke from our impressively diverse churches on how the grants helped each of our congregations experience worship renewal.  We represented Presbyterian(PCA), Christian Reformed Church(CRC), Methodist, Catholic, non-denominational, and Candler Seminary.  You can read more about our grant in the Psalms of Ascents HERE and HERE.

After dinner on Thursday evening I attended: New Faith Alive Hymnals (led by Bert Polman, Paul Ryan, and Greg Scheer) A sing-along led by the editors of three recent song collections: Hymns for Worship, Contemporary Songs for Worship, and Global Songs for Worship.

Thursday evening finished with worship led by The Psalm Project a collection of Dutch musicians who are rendering the Genevan Psalms into contemporary versions.  It was super impressive. Psalm 72 was my favorite. You can listen and check them out HERE.


Friday morning began with worship and a plenary talk by James K.A. Smith “Love Takes Practice: Christian
Worship as a Pedagogy of Desire based in his new book “Desiring the Kingdom: worship, worldview, and cultural formation.”  {Watch the Video here}The thesis of his talk was “We are what we love.”  His talk worked out the implications for worship.  As the church seeks to be counter-cultural we must realize the ways in which the world is forming us.  We are so often enamored to the cultural liturgies around us (the mall, starbucks, eg) that are forming our loves.  The church, besides simply feeding us information, needs to form our loves and capture our hearts and imaginations for the Kingdom.  “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

Great stuff. I was really excited to hear how the book I’ve been reading would transmit as a conference talk.  James was fantastic.  A great communicator, very engaging, and I might even have been inspired to try and finish the whole book. It’s a commitment!

The rest of the morning was spent sharing with other grant recipients in our break-out sessions “Leading Worship Renewal”.

After lunch I headed over to hear Lester Ruth, Christopher Hall, and Alan and Eleanor Kreider talk about What can the Early Church Teach us about Worship Today?.  What a great session.  Probably the most cogent discussion I’ve ever heard concerning worship in the early church and the challenges we face in studying and appropriating that world.  Here were a few observations that struck me.

1. The Early Church – not a really helpful delineation.  2nd century early church radically different in scope and size compared to 3rd and 4th century church.

2. The Worship Services of the Early Church (i.e. 1-2nd century) were secret.  Evangelism was entirely underground and relational.  Services were about as far from ‘seeker-sensitive’ as we could imagine.

3. The Worship of the early church took place in the evenings and was focused around the Lord’s Supper.  Worship without the Supper would not have been considered ‘christian’. That’s very different from today.  It was only after Christianity was legalized, and the masses began to enter worship that worship moved to the mornings and the Word took priority and the meal became more symbolic.

4. Worship was vastly more Trinitarian in nature and scope.  We often pray addressing just one of the three.  They would have always included all three in their prayers.  Praying exclusively to Jesus, as we often do, would have been foreign to them.  Prayers were almost always directed to God the Father, in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.

5. After the legalization of Christianity in the 4th century, everything changed.  Pilgrimage and church councils began to grow in popularity as Christians took on an awareness of the various regions and their distinctives.

Their session coincided with a number of books they have published recently that all look to be very rewarding.

Christopher Hall – Worshipping with the Church Fathers

Lester Ruth – Walking Where Jesus Walked: Worship in Fourth-Century Jerusalem

Alan and Eleanor Krieder – Worship and Mission after Christendom

New to the program last year I think was a collection of Vespers services held each evening before and after dinner.  These were really worshipful and helpful times to process the day and to have some time for personal renewal.  I attended one service featuring new orchestral arrangements for congregational song led by Robert Nordling and another service with original expressions of the psalms led by Martin Tel, Rawn Harbor, a Russian vocal group ‘Psalom‘, and the dutch Psalm Project i.e. psalms on steroids.


Saturday began with worship and was followed by a plenary session on the importance of justice as central to worship with speakers from Central America, the Middle East, and South Africa. It is always so challenging to hear speakers from various parts of the world relate their context and experience to a largely American audience.  Evangelical’s are notorious for their grumpiness regarding whiff’s of the ‘social gospel’ but I felt like each of these speakers strained to strike a balance between the need for obedience to the biblical call for justice and a whole-hearted gospel proclaiming ministry.  I was glad to be reminded of the work and reality of the church around the globe and to be convicted to pray and seek justice in my own context.

The rest of Saturday was spent speaking in our grant workshop, grabbing lunch with Betty Grit, director of the Calvin Institute for Worship Grant Renewal Program and sneaking into a workshop singing through some of the music for the new CRC/RCA Psalter-hymnal coming out in 2013. I have at least one song that’s going to be included in this. so excited.

Looking forward to taking some friends back with me next year!

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