Worship and Program Themes

Navaho Canyon by Don West (www.donwestfineart.com)

Symposium on Worship  -  January 28–30, 2016  -  Grand Rapids, MI, USA


Worship Theme - The Book of Isaiah

Isaiah was given one tough assignment by the Lord God of Israel. Isaiah was commissioned to preach, as all prophets were, but in Isaiah’s case God assured him up front that the better he preached, the less people would listen. The people’s ignoring and even spurning of Isaiah’s sermons would serve as a sign against them that the judgment God was sending was just and altogether warranted. Isaiah’s was a stern message of judgment but scattered throughout even the first half of the book are lyric passages of hope. But then comes the second part of Isaiah where words of encouragement and hope pile up in lovely ways.

At the 2016 Symposium we will use some of those later texts of Isaiah in our worship to remind ourselves that although our God is a God of justice, God is also the font of all grace and hope. It was a comforting message for Israel and is no less a source of unending joy in the New Israel, the Church of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Worship services and preaching texts:  

Thursday morning (repeated in the evening):

  • College Chapel, Mary Hulst preaching on Isaiah 43
  • Covenant Fine Arts Center, Reggie Smith preaching on Isaiah 53

Friday morning (repeated on Saturday morning):

  • College Chapel, Frank Thomas preaching on Isaiah 61
  • Covenant Fine Arts Center, Richard J. Mouw preaching on Isaiah 60

Saturday afternoon communion service

  • Covenant Fine Arts Center, Anne Zaki preaching on Isaiah 65  

10 Key Program Themes

1. Universal Design for Worship

How can worship services, like architecture, feature “universal design”—being planned from the start to welcome the participation of persons across the spectrum of abilities and disabilities? Hear nationally-respected Christian educator Barbara J. Newman give one of the conference’s plenary addresses on this theme. Plus hear Calvin’s Peggy Goetz explore this theme in a session on “Stroke Survivors in our Worshiping Communities.”

2. History Matters

How can Christians prepare to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 in ways that cherish the renewal of the church experienced during this period, acknowledge the changing context of Catholic-Protestant relationships after Vatican II, and take note of the new context for this major commemoration in light of the explosion of Christianity in the global south? Don’t miss historians Mark Noll and Karin Maag along with Catholic scholars and musicians on this topic. The conference will also feature Dr. Maag’s brand new book “Lifting Hearts to the Lord: Worship with John Calvin in 16th Century Geneva.” 

3. Christian Formation Through the Arts in Worship

How can musical and artistic leaders in worship approach their work as “pastoral musicians and artists,” with a heart for providing care, nurture, and spiritual growth through how they plan and lead in worship? How do Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant worshipers relate to the meaning of art in such different ways in their respective worshiping communities? The 2016 Symposium will offer several sessions that address these questions, drawing on the expertise of nationally respected leaders: David M. Bailey, Rawn Harbor, Sandra van Opstal, Sandra McCracken, Michael J. Crosbie, and others.

4. Life-Changing Preaching  

Preachers know that unless they receive fresh input from good resources, sooner or later their weekly output in the sermon will get thinner and thinner. But where are the solid resources on which the preacher can rely? What best practices exist to enrich preaching? Encourage your pastor or come yourself to hear,

Reggie Smith on Preaching to the Streets
Mary Hulst on Preaching to and with Millennials
Frank Thomas on Preaching as a Celebrative Act
Scott Hoezee on Preaching the Troubles of the Day
and Anne Zaki will preach at the closing Saturday service (open to the public) 

5. Poetic, Prophetic Isaiah in Worship

To extend the Calvin fall Bible study, the 2016 Symposium will use some of those later texts of Isaiah in the plenary worship services (all free and open to the public) to remind ourselves that although our God is a God of justice, God is also the font of all grace and hope. It was a comforting message for Israel and is no less a source of unending joy in the New Israel, the Church of Christ Jesus our Lord. 

6. Scripture and Corporate Prayer

How can public prayer practices be strengthened to include not only personal health needs and congregational concerns, but also the needs of local neighborhoods and faraway cultures and countries? 

7. Citizenship

How does worship form us for faithful citizenship without becoming politicized? One of our callings as Christians is to live as resourceful and redemptive citizens of the countries in which we live— a vexing challenge in an age of political division in so many countries around the world represented at the Symposium. How should preaching, public prayer, and other aspects of worship relate to this? How can music and other artworks contribute to sanctifying and redemptive approaches? 

8. Traditioned Innovation

What if “tradition” and “innovation” belong together? What if Christian leaders are called to a particular type of social entrepreneurship—one that does not force us to choose preserving tradition or leading change, but thinking about them together. Aided by a jazz ensemble, L. Gregory Jones, senior strategist for Leadership Education at Duke Divinity School, will unpack this concept of “traditioned innovation” in plenary session. He suggests this is a biblical way of thinking that is appropriate, indeed crucial, to bearing faithful witness to the Triune God and has deep implications for our worship, our theology, and our Christian life together.

9. Global Heartsongs

One of the privileges of living in today's world is the opportunity to learn from and explore a wide variety of the songs of God's people from many musical cultures across the world and throughout time. At the center of Christian faith, life, and worship is the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every Good Friday and Easter, Christians from all over the world gather in remarkably different contexts to tell this story-and sing about what it means for us and the world God loves. At Symposium 2016, come and discover some new songs which are deeply loved, poignantly express the meaning of these events, and give us a glimpse of the beauty of Christ's church in a variety of ministry contexts, and help us to see again the power and beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

10. Worship and the Christian Life

How can Sunday worship strengthen Christians for faithful engagement in the workplace all week long? How can worship serve as a central faith formation and discipleship practice for both children and adults, for both seekers and life-long Christians? How do we plan, lead, and participate in corporate worship when things just aren't the way they are supposed to be? Several sessions at Symposium will explore this vital theme:

  • Connecting Sunday’s Worship to Monday’s Work
  • Worship in Times of Tension
  • Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling With Incurable Cancer, Cancerous Racism, and Life in Christ
  • Retreat: While We Are Waiting, Yielded and Still
  • Retreat: Faith Formation, Worship, and the Building Blocks of Faith

Read more about the program.