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Artwork leads parishioners to worship: Vertical Habits funded by Calvin Institute of Christian Worship grant

A glimpse into the Third Christian Reformed Church in Zeeland, artwork, and Vertical Habits.

By Dale Dieleman 
Copyright 2006 The Grand Rapids Press 
All rights reserved; used with permission

ZEELAND—Outside Third Christian Reformed Church in Zeeland, a 15-foot metal sculpture of a cross glistens in the afternoon sun.

Inside the sanctuary a 12-foot, multi-colored, cross-shaped banner catches the eye.

Both are designed to help parishioners gaze upward not only with their eyes but also their hearts and souls as part of a project called Vertical Habits.

Third CRC is one of several congregations selected by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship to receive a $5,000 grant to create innovative approaches to help believers better understand the language of worship.

Headquartered at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, the CICW received funding from Lilly Endowment, Inc. and awarded grants based on proposals from a variety of denominations and churches—urban, rural, suburban, large, small—representing a variety of ethnic heritages.

"The grant has helped us creatively think about how to integrate worship and church community life," said the Rev. Marc Nelesen, pastor of Third CRC.

Vertical Habits explores a basic vocabulary for communicating with God through worship and life. Five key "words," or habits, express Lenten season worship at Third Church.

Those words, are: "Help!" "I’m listening," "I love you," "I’m sorry," "Here I stand," "Bless you, what can I do?" "Why?" and "Thank You."

Each Sunday service centers on one of the words brought to the congregation in a variety of creative ways.

Nelesen said children and youth in the church have gained a new appreciation for the words used in worship by connecting these everyday words in life and worship.

Coordinating these Vertical Habits into all aspects of the church’s life has helped to better integrate worship, education, outreach and other programs, he said.

Of particular note, Nelesen said, is a devotional guide developed by members of the congregation including reflections on these Vertical Habits.

Others volunteered by making banners, children’s bulletins, photographs, as well as the large sculpture.

Spirited conversations

The effect, Nelesen said, is that the project has generated a new spirit and new kinds of conversations about worship and life.

All this talent will not end with the conclusion of Lent at Easter.

Nelesen said the CICW is collecting liturgies, litanies, artwork, music, dramas and other creative expressions of Vertical Habits from participating churches, and will share them with a larger audience.

"The Vertical Habits project explores one way of approaching the topic of faithful, biblically grounded worship. It is not the only way to approach it. And, it doesn’t address every pressing issue.

"But its advantages commend it as a wonderful starting point for our work," reads a CICW paper used during the orientation for churches that received grants.

"The challenge is that, on any given Sunday, each of us comes to church with something different to say," the paper continues.

"Some of us come to church ready to tell God ‘Thank you!’ Others of us want to cry ‘Why?’… Authentic worship, like toddler talk, expresses who we are and forms what we are becoming."

Third CRC will culminate the Lenten series during Holy Week with worship at 7 p.m. on the evenings of Maundy Thursday (April 13) and Good Friday (April 14).

At 8 a.m. April 16, the church will observe its annual Easter Vigil service at Zeeland Cemetery, followed by a breakfast at the church and worship. The public is welcome to view the sculpture and banners and attend the worship services.

The church, 772-6682, is at 10 W. Central St., Zeeland.