Annual Grants Event Concludes

At the 2013 Worship Renewal Grants Program Colloquium, a three-day event held June 18-20, the approximately 180 attendees were often asked to pair up and share with each other their experiences and their reflections on what they had just heard or learned.

Often this happened after a panel discussion, or a speaker, or even after worship services (of which the event included three).

And often these times of mutual listening and learning were led by Calvin Institute of Christian Worship director John Witvliet who would instruct the attendees as to their marching orders and then say: "Ready, set, go."

By the event's third day, the grant recipients, who represented both 2012 grantees wrapping up their grant year and 2013 recipients just getting started, were anticipating his final instructions and had begun to quietly say those words with Witvliet.

So, on Thursday morning, in the Calvin Chapel, at different locales in the venue as Witvliet encouraged those gathered to "Find someone near you and consider together what the wisdom of your community would look like if articulated as proverbs," as he drew a breath to deliver his "Ready, set, go," participants were already turning towards each other and saying those same words.

Learning from each other

It was fitting for the goal of 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. And when the three days have passed the goal is to have grant recipients who are ready and set to go and do their work, equipped with the lessons learned at the Colloquium and confident in the work of the Spirit and the prayers of their fellow grant recipients.

The pace of the annual three-day event is significant. The first night included a 4 1/2 hour plenary session, dinner and panel discussion and the next day began at 8:30 am with a worship service and concluded at 9 pm with another worship service. In between were plenary sessions, workshops, a poster session and lunch and dinner. And the final day, although done by noon, still managed to pack in a worship service, a plenary session, a conference wrap-up and prayer time and, yes, lunch.

As one grant recipient said to another between afternoon workshop sessions on Wednesday: "They sure keep us busy these three days, don't they." Came the reply: "Yeah, but it's a good busy."

The reason for that quick pace was written right at the bottom of each grant recipient's schedule: "Please note that all grant recipients are expected to attend all sessions, including worship and meals which are planned to help you engage in learning from other grant recipients."

Formal and informal opportunities

So, even meals were designed for both sustenance and education as Worship Institute staff were assigned to each table for each meal to facilitate questions. For the Tuesday-night dinner among the questions were: "If you are beginning your grant, what needs do you expect your project will address? If you are completing your grant, did the grant address the needs you expected?" On Wednesday at lunch among the questions designed to start conversation was "Name one idea or question from the morning plenary that seems especially relevant for your project?" and Wednesday night included "What experiences and interactions at the poster session stretched your definition of worship renewal?" This meant that even mealtimes became rich opportunities for both good food and learning together and conversations in the Great Hall at the Prince Conference Center were often loud and long.

And while the informal conversations were a blessing to attendees, the more formal sessions also were planned for maximum impact. Among the topics at the plenary sessions were such things as the importance of silence in worship and the Christian life, the Navajo perception of time and the ramifications of time perceptions for worship, the ways to address change in the church, and what it means, and doesn't mean, to be a Christian leader. The Wednesday workshops included such topics as congregational hospitality, a visual sense of wonder, the spoken word in worship and preparing children to lead worship.

Bidding Betty farewell

The 2013 colloquium also marked a transition in the grant program as former manager Betty Grit is retiring. A new team has been formed to take her place with Worship Institute staff member Kathy Smith playing a leading role with assistance from Betsy Steele Halstead and Cindy De Boer, all under the oversight of Witvliet.

Since it began in the year 2000, the Worship Renewal Grants Program (housed at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship) has awarded more than 600 grants to churches, schools and seminaries across North America for projects that can generate renewed interest, thoughtfulness and energy for public worship at the local, grass-roots level.

In 2013 the Worship Institute announced another 27 projects that received $300,000 in grants (with funding provided by Lilly Endowment, Inc.).

Among the projects:

  • An effort in Massachusetts that will provide learning, reflection and renewal for pastors, music ministry leaders and others in predominately African American churches
  • A year-long guided exploration of the book of Psalms through workshops in dance, public reading of scripture, theatre, painting, sculpture and memorization that will bridge racial, generational and socio-economic obstacles in a diverse multiethnic Grand Rapids community
  • A study in North Carolina of the theology of worship space and worship hospitality ahead of a planned renovation to a church’s sanctuary
  • An exploration in California of “ancient-future” worship that is intended to help a congregation stay true to its reformed roots, while better connecting to the historic Christian church
  • A Liturgical Certification Program in Las Vegas that will educate, renew and deepen the understanding of Roman Catholic liturgy for a parish of 10,000 families and the local diocese

All told, grant recipients for 2013 represent congregations and schools from 11 denominations in 15 states and two Canadian provinces (an advisory board of pastors and teachers from a variety of backgrounds assisted in the grant selections).

Other Links from the 2013 Event


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