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Kathy Smith on Getting the Most from the Calvin Symposium on Worship

Kathy Smith is associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and manager of grant programs. She speaks at conferences, seminars, and churches around the world. In this edited conversation, she explains how to prepare for, experience, and benefit from the annual Calvin Symposium on Worship.

Kathy Smith is associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and manager of the Institute's grant programs. She speaks at conferences, seminars, and churches around the world. In this edited conversation, she explains how to prepare for, experience, and benefit from the annual Calvin Symposium on Worship.

As you meet and talk with past symposium guests, what main themes emerge about getting the most from the Calvin Symposium on Worship?

Attend with a group of people, so you can go to more seminars, workshops and vespers, and compare notes afterward. Travel as a group, so the processing and reflection happens right away—in the van, car, or plane. Go to as much as you can, and make sure to stay through the closing communion service, which is always a meaningful ending. Go in order to learn what you can try at home, but also make time to simply enjoy the worship that is planned for you. Recognize that not everything can, or should be, replicated in your context. Some things might work back home, but likely in different ways.

Try to implement one idea—anything—in your worship within the first two weeks after symposium. This will start the process of implementation and tell your church some of what you learned.

How should someone prepare and pack for symposium?

Review the overall schedule and, if possible, read websites, articles, or books by the presenters so you can ask them even better questions. Search Google or YouTube for clips of presenters and musicians, to get a taste of what is to come. Rest up, if you can, because the symposium offers lots to do and see.

Pack a warm jacket, hat, gloves, and comfortable walking shoes with non-skid soles. The symposium is on a beautiful campus, and you’ll need to walk between buildings. Our campus crews work hard to keep sidewalks and parking lots clear of snow and ice, but the weather doesn’t always cooperate. If walking is not easy for you, feel free to enjoy a shuttle ride around campus when you need one.

While at the symposium, what works best to strike a balance among learning, conversation, worship, and rest?

Go to as many sessions as you can, but make sure to break for lunch. Since symposium guests come from so many places, opportunities to learn often happen best at mealtimes, when people randomly share tables in the cafeteria. Ask questions. Learn from others. See what God has in store for you beyond your registration choices! 

After listening to and learning from seminars and workshops all day, take time to "rest" and worship in afternoon vesper services.

Between some events, relax alone for 30 minutes or so in the library, Commons Annex coffee shop, Spoelhof Center atrium, Covenant Fine Arts Center art gallery, or Prince Center lobby. Most campus buildings have corners with comfortable seating for a short conference “sabbatical.”

Spend time at the exhibits learning about our partners in ministry; you can find music, books, or other items to take home, or back to your church, school or organization.

What are the easiest or most valuable ways to “take symposium home”?

Besides shopping at the exhibits?

Keep a journal of thoughts, learnings, and ideas to share with people back home. You might not remember everything that occurs to you during the conference, so it’s good to write it down.

Meet with people at your church or organization (pastors, staff, musicians, worship planners, governing groups) to tell what you've learned and see which ideas gain traction with them. 

Take photos to accompany a presentation about symposium that you would give to your Sunday School class or small group. Record video clips that tell the story of your symposium experience.

What cautions can you offer about expectations for the worship symposium?

Don't think only about trying what you see and hear. Reflect on what you learned about worship itself, how the worship experiences shaped and formed you, and how you might shape and form people through worship in your setting.    

Don't expect to be able to replicate everything you see and hear in worship at symposium. We have a wealth of resources to use, because we’re on a college campus and have so many great presenters in town. Your locale has its own gifts and resources. Imagine what you can do with those!

Consider the pace of introducing new things. At a conference, everyone expects new ideas. In your home church the response may be different. If you try a few things that you picked up at symposium, the church may feel good about having paid your way. But avoid too much change too soon. 

Your book Stilling the Storm deals with worship and congregational leadership in difficult times. How might the symposium help someone whose church is in crisis or transition?

First of all, symposium may give you welcome relief from the difficulties you face back home. Enjoy it! Let the Spirit work in you and give you the grace and peace you need. Seek out seminars and workshops that address the topic your congregation is struggling with, or go to workshops on leadership or advice for churches going through difficulties. Share your challenges at mealtimes or other settings, because sometimes it’s easier to talk with people from churches other than your own. You may connect with someone in a similar situation and gain from his or her wisdom and experience.

Don't wait for all issues to be resolved before trying to bring symposium-inspired worship renewal into your congregation. Churches are always in some state of transition; worship renewal—if done with care and sensitivity—can be a tonic for struggling, anxious, or depressed congregations. Worship itself is God's pastoral care to us, and reviving our worship may be exactly what we need to persevere through difficulties and disagreements. Perhaps, as we talk about worship and focus on what we bring to God in worship, we will put our disagreements in perspective and learn better how to disagree more agreeably and work toward new possibilities that will draw us together.