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Grants Build Worship in North America

More than 40 poster boards showing the results of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s 2018 Vital Worship Grants program were on display last week in the Prince Center at Calvin College.

This story is republished from CRC News & Views.

Awarded to congregations, parishes, schools, seminaries, nursing homes, and other worshiping communities in North America, the Vital Worship Grants range from $5,000 - $15,000 and focus on projects that connect public worship to intergenerational faith formation and Christian discipleship.

The grant recipients encourage fresh ways of worship by using Bible reading and preaching, public prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, congregational song, visual arts, storytelling, and more.

“We want to see worship revitalized and the faith of the people encouraged,” said Kathy Smith, program manager for the Vital Worship Grants program, as she joined others in touring the posters displayed at the Prince Center.

“The goal is for all people to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. It is as if God has a garden, and we are helping worshiping communities to tend that garden. . . . A Vital Worship Grant can plant seeds that will continue to grow long after the grant year,” says the Vital Worship Grants website.

Above all, say coordinators of the program, the grants seek to encourage creativity, reflection, and closer connection with God for those who receive them.

The website adds, “Many congregations have discovered that a year focused on worship has led to revitalization that increases their ability to reach out to the world with the good news of the gospel. They have taught us that when churches are engaged in focusing on worship, others are drawn to worship with them.”

The display of posters, arranged in two rooms of the Prince Center, was part of a three-day worship grants event that included worship-related presentations and seminars, times of worship, and information offering directors of the 2019 Vital Worship Program suggestions on how to make the most of their worship projects.

People circulated through the poster displays for an hour or so before dinner on Wednesday, June 26, stopping to talk to project directors about the results of their year-long efforts.

Standing in front of the poster for New Life Church, a Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Junction, Colo., project director Jenny Dawson said they used their grant to simplify worship in various ways.

“We went through all of the songs we use in worship and decided what our heart songs are -- the songs that have meant the most to the church,” she said.

As a result, they pared as many as 100 songs from the list of songs they regularly used in worship. “We now cycle through the songs much more quickly, not every several months, but about every six weeks,” said Dawson. “Our goal was to work toward more simplicity.”

Photos covered the poster, accompanied by descriptions of how the grant helped New Life Church enhance and at the same time streamline and make worship more meaningful.

New Life members created banners and visual backgrounds to accompany the music, provided vocal training to give worship team members more confidence in singing, and expanded efforts to get feedback from the church on what is and isn’t working.

As part of the process of simplification and to create accessibility, New Life remodeled the sanctuary to bring worship closer to the people. In the process, they tore out carpet and refinished the floor to provide a more natural look.

In addition, the church hosted a statewide worship conference. Looking ahead, the church plans to tackle making its liturgies more relevant and meaningful.

“What we have done is helping us to enjoy the awe, wonder, and joy or our worship journey,” said Dawson.

Other projects included one at Pillar Church, a joint CRC/Reformed Church in America congregation in Holland, Mich., that sought to explore and generate artistic and liturgical resources from the book of Revelation, and one coordinated by the Seabury Resources for Aging in Washington, D.C.

“We designed and implemented a participatory, intergenerational worship series for two of our older adult living communities, Seabury at Friendship and Seabury at Springvale Terrace,” said project coordinator Billy Kluttz. Other communities and churches have picked up on and are using this intergenerational model.

The grants are not restricted to Christian Reformed organizations. Two churches in the Lansing, Mich., area joined in a project that had the goal of bridging the racial divide. First Presbyterian Church of Holt is predominantly white, and Lansing Church of God in Christ is African American.

Their goal has been to use art to help them connect their communities, along with having a combined service on Pentecost Sunday at the Church of God in Christ. Additional plans include holding a World Day of Communion service in October at the Presbyterian church.

“We wanted to show that we could come together as a model for the city,” said Regina Crudup of the Lansing Church of God in Christ. “We faced some challenges, but we felt that God had us in the palm of his hand the whole time.”

Two activities that drew people together included drawing images on pieces of wood that artist Steve Prince, who was brought in to direct the art work, eventually put together like pieces of a puzzle as part of a large mural in wood that stood at the front of the Church of God in Christ on Pentecost -- and will be displayed again on World Communion Sunday.

Crudup’s image was of a dove. Mary Lee Hultin, project director for the church in Holt, etched a peace sign with a bird and clouds.

While this activity helped bring church members together, it was a mask-making effort that truly helped to bridge the divide. For this a member of one church needed to sit still for 20 minutes or so as a member of the other church spread plaster on their face, including at one point covering their eyes and nose, to make a mask.

“I felt very disoriented being touched and having someone get in my personal space like that,” said Crudup. “We had to trust, and it stretched all of us.”

“We showed up for the masking project, not knowing what to expect. It was nerve-wracking,” said Hultin. “But we knew that if we stayed grounded in God, we would be fine.”

Once the masks were finished, participants had a chance to paint their masks, using color and images that reflected their life experiences.

Hultin’s shows a face with colorful angles and shapes, but she offered no story behind it. Not so with Crudup.

“I wanted to be a model with glitter and glamour when I was in high school,” she said. But there came a time, she said, when it seemed she would have to choose between the world of fashion or turn to God for meaning in her life. It turns out she has been able to have both. “My mask has bright colors and also represents my valley of decision,” she said.

Ultimately the project gave each church a better understanding of the other’s denomination and at the same time helped to bring them together.

“It was real work for us to be true to who were are and to work through our differences,” said Cudup. “But I think we’re getting there. I could tell that when they shut their church down on Pentecost and we worshiped together.”

Proposals for the next round of Vital Worship Grants are due on January 10, 2020.