Annual Grants Colloquium Concludes

There was a moment at the end of the 2015 Vital Worship Grants Program colloquium that was an apt and symbolic representation of what the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship's grants program is all about.


It came during the wrap-up and closing prayer session, during a time when participants in the event – 2014 grant recipients just concluding their grant year and 2015 grant recipients just beginning – were gathered at the 20 or so tables in the Prince Conference Center’s Great Hall to quietly reflect and pray in their groups of six to eight people.

The prayers at the tables had been going on for 5-10 minutes already, murmured words of praise, thanks, gratitude and more, when near the back of the room one person at one table began to softly speak the Lord’s Prayer.

"Our Father, who art in heaven," she said. "Hallowed be thy name."

As she spoke her table, and tables on either side of hers, joined in.

"Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done."

And then tables beside those tables joined the movement and the moment.

"On earth as it is in heaven," as the room grew louder.

"Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

By this point the entire room, people from across the continent representing a wide variety of denominations and backgrounds, was now together reciting those familiar words from Matthew 6 when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray.

"And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen."

A space for conversation, collaboration

It was a moving moment for all who were present, including Kathy Smith, associate director of the Worship Institute and program manager for the Vital Worship Grants Program.

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"The colloquium is meant to create a space for conversation and collaboration and learning for our grant recipients," she said. "With these grants together we're working to foster vital worship in congregations, parishes and other worshiping communities in North America. Our grants last for just a year, but we hope that the impact lasts well beyond the grant year itself. So, the way the Lord's Prayer began and then spread through the whole room was so powerful and symbolic of exactly what we hope will happen every time we award a grant."

Indeed, since it began in the year 2000 (just three years after the Worship Institute was established on the campuses of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary), the Vital Worship Grants Program (formerly known as the Worship Renewal Grants Program) has awarded more than 700 grants to churches, schools and seminaries across North America for projects that can generate thoughtfulness and energy for public worship and faith formation at the local, grass-roots level. The program is generously supported by Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc., which was founded in 1937 and has as its major areas of concern religion, education and community development.

29 new projects join the mix

In the spring of 2015 another 29 such projects joined the mix, receiving grants from the Worship Institute with a total of $300,000 in funding provided by Lilly Endowment, Inc.

Among them:

  • A project in Pennsylvania to creatively tell the stories of all ages and develop a rhythm of worship in a new church community through conversations, Bible studies, shared meals and a congregational retreat.
  • An effort in California to renew a Spanish-speaking worshiping community through communal practices of worship connected to art, dance, hospitality, and service.
  • A regional plan in Michigan to equip congregations to welcome persons into a community of faith and prepare them for a lifelong journey of discipleship beginning with baptism, through an immersion event and a mentoring program.
  • A collaborative venture in Minnesota to deepen understanding and develop creative practices of communion and community in gathering around the table with people of other Christian denominations.

All told, grant recipients for 2015 represent congregations and schools from 15 denominations, 18 states and one Canadian province, 25 congregations and church plants, two regional church bodies, and two college and seminary communities.  An advisory board of pastors and teachers from a variety of backgrounds assisted in the grant selections.

At the June colloquium project directors and team members for all 29 grants gathered on Calvin’s campus to dialogue not only with Worship Institute staff, but also with the recipients of 2014 grants, who came back to campus to share the results of their year-long projects.

A challenge for introverts

It was a busy three days for attendees, a time filled with worship, meals, meal-time conversations, plenary sessions, panel discussions, workshops and much more. It was a time for listening and learning and lots of sharing of stories.

As Worship Institute director John Witvliet said with a chuckle on the event's final day: "I'd like to give a shout-out and a round of applause to every introvert in this room." As the applause, and plenty of laughter, died down, he added: "I know we have stretched and challenged you these past few days."

The pace was quick, but intentionally so, said Smith.

“The synergy at this event between old and new grant recipients is exciting,” said Smith, “and very important because so much learning happens through conversations over meals, while viewing posters produced by the concluding grant projects and in many other venues both informal and formal. We pack a lot into three days, but, we think, for good reasons for both recipients finishing up their projects and for those just beginning.”

One critical goal for the annual event is to encourage new grant recipients as their year begins by giving them a chance to learn from not just Worship Institute staff and other experts, but also to create opportunities for learning from fellow churches, schools, seminaries and more, folks in the trenches who are hard at the work of worship renewal.

Where God might be calling the church

So, on the final day of the event, at the morning plenary session, Smith asked attendees to call out one word or phrase that might describe something they'd discerned at colloquium about to where or to what God might be calling the church in the coming weeks, months and years.

Soon the Chapel filled with the sounds of grant recipients' voices as they called out a wide variety of both challenges and opportunities.

"Community."

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"Inclusion."

"Multiculturalism."

"Pentecost."

"Lament."

"Brokenness."

"Reconciliation."

"Collaboration."

"Intergenerational."

As people called out their responses the other grant recipients in the Chapel often could be seen smiling and nodding and even adding an occasional "amen." It was clear that there was resonance in the room, a sense of shared conviction and a willingness to work together as God's people on his project.

That, said Witvliet, is exactly what the grants staff hopes for each year for the colloquium, both for the benefit of attendees, but also for the benefit of the Worship Institute.

"We learn a tremendous amount from these programs," he said, "from the wisdom demonstrated in designing them and the insights gleaned from implementing and adapting them as they unfold. And we look forward to sharing insights from these projects with a larger audience in our future programming over the next several years."

-written by senior public relations specialist Phil de Haan


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