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Grants Colloquium Wraps Up

Past and present worship renewal grant recipients gathered in Grand Rapids for three days of conversation, workshops, worship services and prayer.

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The annual Worship Renewal Grants Program Colloquium brings together grant recipients just finishing up their grant year and grant recipients just beginning their journey. For three days those recipients past and present share stories, attend workshops, ask questions, listen for answers, pray, laugh, cry, wonder, wander and consider the numerous ways in which public worship impacts lives in their communities.

It is an annual event that always brings surprises and 2012 was no exception. This year, on the final day of the three-day event, in the middle of morning worship in the Calvin Chapel, the power went out.

But, without missing a beat, the musicians -- including a pianist, guitarist, drummer and vocalists -- continued on with the song they were in the midst of: Mac Powell and Fernando Ortega's "Our Great God." They led those assembled for worship in that song's glorious chorus -- Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God! Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God! -- and after they were done, the next element in the service, a choral reading of Scripture, commenced without pause. It was Matthew 6:25-34 which begins: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?"

Adjusting for size and fit

Later that day John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, reflected on that moment in the Chapel, the seamless nature of the transition from power to no power and the power of the first words spoken after the lights, and microphones, went out. "Do not be anxious," he said. "What a gift. Thank you for improvising with us this morning."

His words provided a nice bookend for the colloquium which had as one of its first events a panelist of past grant recipients who reflected on worship renewal and what they had learned about the process during their grant year. One of the panelists recalled something she had heard the previous summer, when her congregation's grant was just beginning.

It was an analogy, she remembered, though she could not remember who had said it, comparing worship renewal to buying sneakers for children. The advice that was given was that with worship renewal, just as with buying shoes for kids, "sometimes you have to adjust for size and fit."

Those gathered in the Great Hall of the Prince Conference Center -- some 180 people representing 2011 grant recipients, 2012 grant recipients, members of the Grants Advisory Board, participant-observers and Worship Institute staff -- chuckled appreciatively. They all understood, on numerous different levels, the need to be flexible, to adjust and to improvise.

Worship renewal: A gift of God's Spirit

Indeed that was one of the unofficial theme for the June 26-28, 2012 event at Calvin. Past recipients spoke often of the things they had not expected to encounter or learn during their grant year and of the importance of being open to the leading of the Spirit. Grant recipients just beginning their year listened eagerly to those past recipients and to members of the advisory board and Worship Institute staff who lent valuable advice and direction in formal and informal settings on one of the key facts about worship renewal: it cannot be produced or engineered by human ingenuity, but is a gift of God's Spirit, a gift, they said, for which we pray, rather than an accomplishment we achieve.

That message was especially clear in the many moments colloquium participants spent expressing gratitude, lament, testimony, praise and hospitality at 20 round tables in the Great Hall of the Prince Conference Center, the home base for the annual event, 20 round tables that provided a place for not just meals, but also conversations and learning and questions and answers, 20 spots that Witvliet referred to often simply as "at table."

It was "at table" that the 2012 event began with singing and Scripture and a panel discussion and a meal and another panel discussion. It was "at table" that the 2012 event ended with thanksgiving and Scripture and singing and another meal and the passing of the peace. "At table" past recipients mingled with new recipients and shared stories. "At table" friendships and connections were made. "At table" the work of worship renewal began and continued.

Gathering of old and new recipients fruitful

Betty Grit, the manager of the Worship Renewal Grants program, said bringing past and present recipients together annually in such a setting provides a fitting forum for learning and conversation. “The getting-together of both old and new grant recipients is intentional,” said Grit, “and fruitful. It is a wonderful time together for the grant recipients.”

Grants Advisory Board members concurred.

Doug Brouwer, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, expressed his appreciation for the proposals the board reads each January, proposals that often number in the hundreds, noting that he and his fellow board members are deeply touched by the yearly proposals. And he added: "So many people are working so hard to make worship worthy of the One we come to worship."

William Johnston, a professor in the department of religious studies at the University of Dayton, reminded this year's attendees of the rich traditions they stand upon as they work for worship renewal. "Be open to the breadth of Christian experience that is here," he said, "and the depth of the love everyone here has for Christ."

And Grit noted in a session for new grant recipients that "worship renewal is hard work, but it is worthwhile work."

That work began in Grand Rapids with not just meals, worship services, formal and informal conversations and more, but also various workshops as part of a Day of Learning open to the public, 60-minute workshops on such topics as music in the church, movement in worship, kids and Psalms and links in the liturgy.

That work will continue now across the continent, at the 31 churches, schools and seminaries who in 2012 were awarded more than $300,000 (the Worship Renewal Grants Program is generously supported by Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc.), 31 recipients who join a group of more than 500 such past recipients since the program’s first year in 2000!

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