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Universal Design, Public Worship, and the Christian Life

Join together with John D. Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, in this opening session focused on welcoming all to the online Symposium experience, highlighting the legacy of Barbara Newman and her work on Universal Design for Worship, and reflecting on vocational worship leadership in Christian community as we begin 2021.

John Witvliet:

Warm greetings to each of you from the campus of Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. On behalf of all of us at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary, may the Lord be with you.

It is a joy to be gathering in this way in this particular year, and especially on the Feast of Epiphany. What a great gift it is to celebrate that the mystery of Christ revealed to the prophets is now revealed to all. And what an astonishing mystery it is—the last shall be first, the weak shall be strong—that God’s healing grace is lavishly provided, even in places where we wouldn’t expect it and find it hard to see, at times. What a gift to be united together all over the world on this Epiphany, as we begin this three weeks of learning, worship together, growth within the body of Christ. It is a privilege and a joy to greet you all.

As we begin on this Festival of Epiphany, I would like to read from Ephesians chapter 3. For centuries, lectionaries of the Christian church have appointed this reading for this day. A word of grace and truth. Hear the Word of the Lord from Ephesians 3:

Although I (Paul) am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

As we begin this conference, let’s join our hearts in the power of the Holy Spirit in prayer.

Almighty, loving God. What an astonishing gift you offer to us in Jesus Christ. You, holy one, are the giver of all light. And we pray that by your Spirit, you would lift up our hearts and our minds to Christ, even now—Christ the Morning Star that never fades.

By the light of your Holy Spirit, reveal to us your saving word. Reveal to us the boundless riches of Christ. Reveal to us the wisdom of God in its rich variety. And equip us so that we together, in each of the places to which you’ve called us and all together from all over the world, may offer our lives to you in service and in love.

We pray this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This conference, the thirty-fourth annual Symposium on Worship here at Calvin, is, of course, a conference in a year like no other. What a challenging year it has been for all of us all over the world.

In the United States, we have endured the pandemic of COVID-19, a terrible pandemic of recurring racism and colorism, and a recurring pandemic of the erosion of truth. It has made ministry exceptionally challenging. Many of us are tired, exhausted, angry, afraid.

And yet, you are with us, so many of you, from all over the world in places also of great challenge and difficulty. We have prayed with you and mourned with you, those of you who are joining us from Lebanon. We have prayed with you and are in solidarity with you, those of you from Hong Kong, who have struggled in your own context with political challenges.

We are in solidarity with people all over the world—in North Korea, in Iraq, in Nicaragua and El Salvador, in Brazil and Argentina, in South Africa, in Egypt, in Ghana, in the Netherlands, in Norway, Russia, China.

What a challenging year it has been. We lament. We ache.

We also celebrate the astonishing gifts the Holy Spirit has given to the church in this year. In our work here at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the Center for Excellence in Preaching, we have the privilege of being in communication with so many people and hearing astonishing stories and experiencing it in online sessions somewhat like this. Remarkable resources of technological hospitality that many of you have provided. Creative approaches to preaching and the celebration of the sacraments and prayer.

The Lord is clearly blessing the church with hundreds, thousands of faithful and resourceful leaders during this time, and we are thrilled over these next three weeks to be able to make connections among them.

So often the most remarkable, resilient, faithful Christian witness and leadership happens in places that often are not covered by the media or not apparent to many of us. I was deeply inspired by a student of mine who spoke about the challenges he faced in improvising liturgies in hospital wards during this year. Or I think of those who have gathered on the streets, among communities of those who live with homelessness. Or those who have found creative ways to minister to families who are together all week long and also for Sunday worship.

The number of examples of creative, faithful, resilient, really remarkable leadership is simply a gift to celebrate and to cherish. And even as we lament the challenges of ministry in this year, one of our callings over these next three weeks is to celebrate the gifts that God is pouring out on the church. We are richly blessed.

As we gather over these next three weeks, we are gathering and convening a beautifully diverse representation of churches from around the world. We have joining us students in high schools, in colleges, universities, seminaries, and divinity schools. Welcome to each of you.

We have many of you who come to us from very small churches—twenty, thirty, forty people at most. We have others who come from very large churches—five thousand, ten thousand, or more. Even the largest churches in the United States are not nearly as large as some of the churches you represent in different places around the world.

We have some of you joining us, both now and over these next three weeks, who work full time in shaping public worship services of Christian churches. You are gifted to be craftspeople in shaping songs, prayers, sermons, technological innovation that aids with hospitality.

We have dozens, if not hundreds, even thousands of others who are volunteers, who do this work to contribute to the building up of the church late at night after caring for family—working sometimes more than one job. And yet you are there, providing for your congregations. What a good thing it is for us to be together.

One of our dreams in our work together here at the Center for Excellence in Preaching and at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is that the conversations we will convene will stretch beyond the typical ways that we divide ourselves from each other.

What a gift it is to be in conversation across generations, young people and old together. What a gift it is to be in conversation across cultures—across cultures halfway around the world, but also right down the street, and often within our own homes and congregations.

What a gift it is to be in conversation across denominational boundaries. What a gift it is to be in conversation receiving the gifts of saints that come from earlier times in the church’s history, but yet who have so much to offer us. What an amazing thing it is on this Epiphany to sing a hymn like “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright,” written by a Lutheran pastor during a time of terrible pandemic. Surely as we cross boundaries and build bridges, we want to do so with the past, even as we look to the future.

The goal in all of this is for our worship to be faithful, for it to be vital, for it to be trinitarian, covenantal, sacramental, inclusive, collaboratively planned and shaped, prophetic and priestly and pastoral—all of the above.

I should pause to reflect on one challenge that we have in the English language. Those of you who come from other cultural contexts and speak other languages can help us here. In English, we have a problem because we only have one word, worship, that is used to convey multiple meanings.

We use the term worship in our Bible translations when we speak about offering our entire lives to God, as in Romans 12:1, which speaks about the offering of our spiritual worship to the Lord. It’s pretty clear that that’s 24/7 worship—all the time. That would make this conference the “Calvin Symposium on All of Life,” the “Calvin Symposium on Christian Life in General.” It’s a massively huge vision, and it’s beautiful.

But the same English word is also used to speak about explicit, intentional songs of adoration or praise that we bring to God. That would make this conference the “Calvin Symposium on Praise Songs,” and many people who engage with us think, at first, that that’s what this conference is all about. And of course it is, in part.

But in English we also use the term worship to refer to public worship gatherings. And that is the sense of the term that we’ll pay special attention to.

But I need to add one more comment about that. We are planted at a seminary and at a university. What a gift that is. It invites us to always be thinking about the connections—the connections between ministry practices and especially public worship events: Sunday morning at ten, Wednesday night at seven, a prayer service super early in the morning for some of you around the world.

We’re always, though, then thinking about the connections between these public worship events and every other aspect of Christian life. So when you think about the Calvin Symposium on Worship, we invite you to think about this as the “Calvin Conversation and Experiential Learning Opportunity” about the connections between public worship gatherings and every other aspect of life.

And that means that this year, we need to attend to the profound cultural breakdowns that so many of us are experiencing. To racism, to colorism, to mental health crises, to public health crises, to the exhaustion that so many of us experience as worship leaders. To the need for prophetic witness as we care for the world that God has so lovingly made. That we need to be deeply concerned about righteousness, justice, shalom, those who live with poverty and struggle in conditions for survival.

It means that we need to be concerned about every human life that God has made, through every single stage of life, and we need to do it lovingly and prayerful together. (In) our worship practices we’ll pray about these things. We will preach about these things. And we will be modeling a way of community, we pray, that can ripple out and connect seamlessly with our witness in the world and society. And for that reason, the conference topics that we’ll explore together are rich, broad, wide indeed.

In this opening session, I would like especially to lead our reflections at this Worship Symposium—to lead into them—by celebrating the rich contribution and the lasting legacy of a close colleague in our work, whom, tragically, we lost during this past year.

Barbara J. Newman—what a gift to us. A graduate of Calvin University. A teacher at Zeeland Christian School in Zeeland, Michigan, not far from our campus. A longtime staff member at what is now known as All Belong, formerly the CLC Network, a wonderful organization that equips schools and congregations to live as more inclusive community. And for the last decade or so, a program affiliate in our work here at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Barb Newman loved God, and she loved every creature and loved every child that God made. What a gift her life and witness has been. And over the years, Barb has been one of the greatest teachers among us as a Worship Institute staff—and, we’ve noticed, one of the teachers that conference members, that grantees, and that users of our website have returned to time and time again.

I just finished reading a group of evaluations from a course that I finished teaching just a few weeks ago. Students had very helpful comments about many aspects of the course. When it comes to the things that they were most appreciative of, it was nearly unanimously the insights that came to us in the recorded lectures that Barb has left to us. And it reminds me again what a beautiful thing it is to pay attention along the way to those spots when a beautiful message connects. When it lands. When people feel hungry for it and eager to embrace it. It’s one of our joyful disciplines here at the Worship Institute to pay attention to that. And we certainly celebrate it with respect to Barb.

I’m holding in my hand now one of the gifts that Barb gave. It’s a simple puzzle piece, and it’s one of the key insights that Barb leaves with us. I’ll frame these in terms of questions that we at the Worship Institute will keep asking and that we invite you to join us in answering.

And so the question is: What would it look like in Christian communities—especially at worship, but not only in worship—to cherish the strengths and work with the weaknesses that God has given to each of us?

I probably heard Barb speak about these puzzle pieces at least two hundred times. She would speak about how we are all graced with strengths and with weaknesses. She would laugh at some of her own weaknesses. She would invite us all to reflect on our strengths and weaknesses, and then she would say, “Every single person has both. Every single person is only one puzzle piece in a larger tapestry. Every single community is enriched when we find room and connect with and minister together with people across the spectrum of abilities and disabilities of all kinds.” It is a beautiful and powerful vision.

The second question that Barb puts really on our continuing journey of learning together is this question: As we embrace a deeply inclusive vision, how can that vision continue to affirm a vision of worship as a formative act, where God’s Spirit grafts us into a centuries-long community and equips us to become people who speak to God, listen to God, receive God’s love, share God’s love?

Early on in our work with Barb, we were grateful to participate and support a project that Barb did with our longtime colleague Betty Grit, whom we acknowledge with great gratitude today. This book, Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship, represented early insights from Barb’s reflections about how worship practices in local communities could become more inclusive without the essential nature of worship changing. In fact, viewing the essential nature of worship as a trinitarian, covenantal communion with God that we have through Christ in the power of the Spirit—that vision sustains inclusive worship far better than any other and is more adequate to the full gospel of Jesus Christ, the mystery that is revealed that we celebrate on this day.

Toward the back of this book are some wonderful resources related to a concept called vertical habits that we have explored together at the Worship Institute for many years. Artists, like this particular artist from a children’s hospital in Cincinnati, many years ago helped us communicate these visually.

In worship we learn how to say to God, I love you. I’m sorry. Why—why, oh Lord? Help. And we learn to hear from God certain messages, too. Messages of call. Messages of blessing.

That vision that Barb explored in this book runs through so many of our projects at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship over the years. It’s really at the heart of Jamie Smith’s writing, books like Desiring the Kingdom. It’s at the heart of our work on The Worship Sourcebook. It’s at the heart of this bilingual children’s book that some of us had the opportunity to be a part of, or this wonderful resource for family prayer called Teach Us to Pray. We’ll put links to each of those in the chat now, and also on our website later.

But it’s the common vision here that we receive from the saints of the ages. Athanasius from the early church is one of the most compelling persons who speaks to this. Augustine certainly. Calvin and Luther certainly, in their own ways. And on through the ages it goes. A deeply trinitarian, formative vision of worship.

What a gift that it’s been to see, from so many of you, creative work—an affirmation of this vision and an eagerness to participate in it. Every contribution to the sound gallery at this year’s conference participates in that too.

As our work with Barb over the last ten years continued to develop, there were moments of discovery and insight along the way. And one of those happened when Barb began adding to her stump speeches an insight that comes to us from architecture. The phrase—very simple—universal design.

We’re going to hear Barb convey this message in her own words. In retrospect, what a stunning grace it is that this past May, just before we learned of Barb’s sickness, she recorded insights about the vision and nature of universal design for worship. So let’s hear from her directly for a few minutes about this vision.

Barbara Newman: (May 2020 video recording)

Hello, my name is Barbara Newman, and I am the church services director from All Belong Center for Inclusive Education. I am also a partner affiliate with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

I’d like to talk just for a couple of minutes about something called universal design for worship. But let’s talk about that word universal design. Technically, universal design is a way of designing buildings, products, and environments that make them accessible to all people, with and without disabilities.

So imagine that building. The term first started with architects. They build a building for everyone to use but know and expect that people of all abilities will be coming into that building.

So they put options in that building. There are stairs and there are elevators. There are curb cutouts. There are parking spots that might be closer to a door and some that are further away.

They build options for those that can feel the Braille on the wall describing the women’s and men’s bathrooms, as well as people who can wheel in and use bars within those stalls that help a wheelchair user. So I think it’s really important to remember that it’s about options.

Educators loved this idea and they soon began to talk about universal design for learning. We know that our classrooms are filled with learners of varied ability. So let’s not just talk about this in one way—we can talk about it, but let’s show it, let’s touch it, and let’s allow children to not only write a report or speak a report but also maybe they could choose to build a visual display. It’s all about building in options.

Well, if we, in our worship services, want to make them accessible to people of all abilities, if we want to build an accessible conversation with God in worship, it’s about building in those options. It’s about perhaps saying, Look, we want everyone to be part of this time when we tell God “I love you” during song. And so there may be those who would say it with words and others who may need to have those words sent ahead of time so that they are part of a screen shot on a device that they may have in their possession.

It could be that we would provide streamers for people who could wave their love to God, as opposed to speak it or sing it. What about that order of worship? Again, do we want people to have those words? Then maybe we build in some options.

In the same way we build in options around an offering. Do we want people to have access to give? Well, then we do it in a variety of ways: You could put money in the in the bucket that’s being passed down the pew. Or you could text it in. You could put it in during the week. You could have budget envelopes. There are so many different ways to give. How could we apply that and continue to apply that to the rest of that worship service?

Universal design for worship is about thinking through those options that allow people to have access points. Take the Lord’s Supper, for example. By providing a gluten-free option, you have just opened up that opportunity to connect, through the Lord’s Supper, with more people. What if we would say, Look, you could come forward for communion or you could stay seated and someone will bring the elements to you? Again, every option increases the possibility that people can participate.

Hearing loops. The way we speak and invite people into worship. We could say, “Please stand” or we could say, “Please stand, or please rise, in body or in spirit.” All of those are ways to increase options.

And if you’re the pastor and you’re the one giving the message that day, well, perhaps what we want to do is plant in a few visuals, plant in some interaction, so that, again, you have invited even more people into that time.

An order of worship with just words? Oh, that would reach some. But if we also put in some icons or pictures into our order of worship and made it available ahead of time for people to download onto their devices as needed, or print it off on their Braille printer, you have just increased participation.

Universal design for worship is just a wonderful way of thinking about diverse ways that we can connect and allow everybody present to connect with God.

John Witvliet:

It’s wonderful to hear Barb’s words.

Barb spoke about universal design in many contexts and as she did, one of the things that we noticed is that educators became some of the key resource people for congregations. And one of the things we continue to urge in our work at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is that every community look around to those people who are thinking about universal design, both for architecture but also for the programming that happens within that architecture.

In so many different sectors of society, albeit in different ways and different forms and different cultural contexts, we need to find those people who are working hard with creative and imaginative ways of making our experiences together more accessible.

And of course we know that this is happening online, and we will be the first to admit right now that we are learning a lot about what hospitality and accessibility looks like through online engagement. And one thing we’re certain of is that next year and the year after, we will implement practices that we learn about through this year’s experience.

Barb always spoke in a hopeful way, saying, “It’s so important that every community take a step forward and then another step forward on a journey of continual and lifelong growth.” What a difference that can make.

Universal design gets at so much of the challenge, but it’s not all of it. And I recall the session where we talked about this with a group of seminary students, and Barb said, “But there are also times in which a particular person, a particular family, a particular situation demands, invites accommodations that are unique.”

What amazing accommodations we’ve all needed to make together in this past year. Let’s hear Barb now reflect on that second, complimentary concept of responsive design.

So yes, we think about universal design so that we maximize the potential accessibility for all. But then we are also ready to respond to the unique circumstances and needs and opportunities that a given person brings into our community.

Barb Newman on responsive design:

Barbara Newman: (May 2020 video recording)

My name is Barbara Newman, and I’m the church services director from All Belong Center for Inclusive Education. I am also a partner affiliate with a Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

And I want to talk to you about a term called responsive design. We’ve used the word universal design for worship, thinking, Let’s create options and put in alternatives, so that everyone can access that worship service.

But even with the best of our planning, we still may need another piece to that process to make sure everyone can truly access the conversation with God in worship. And so responsive design technically refers to the process of getting to know an individual and then responding to that person’s strengths and challenges by putting together a personalized plan for use within the activities of the church.

While I want to focus on the activity of worship, this would also be true within education options, service options—the same could be constructed there. But we really want to get to know that individual: What is that person good at doing? What are that person’s gifts and strengths and interests, and what are the areas of challenge for that person?

While universal design will bring us a long ways, many times there will be individuals we will want to get to know personally. So, let’s imagine that we have somebody who may have cerebral palsy. And we could put in a lot of universal design features around the Lord’s Supper, such as providing gluten-free options, saying to people, “You know, you could take communion coming forward or we will bring the elements to you at your seat”— again, building in those options. But we may really need to get to know this person, because this person, in order to say “Yes, I would like to receive communion” is going to look at you with her eyes or look away for the answer no. So we want to know, do you want to take communion today, participate in the Lord’s Supper—yes or no?

And we also might need to know how to safely administer communion. For this individual, that piece of bread is going to need to be very soggy and you’re going to need to launch that on the back of her tongue.

So a responsive design plan would look at this individual—how to allow this person to be part of the same worship service as everyone else, but to participate in a meaningful and safe way. Responsive design again will belong to certain individuals who will need a different type of avenue to engage in the activities of worship or education as part of your congregation.

John Witvliet:

Again, it’s wonderful to hear Barb’s words.

Increasingly, one of the insights in Barb’s talk focused on the need for every single member, and persons in every single role in congregations, to embrace this vision. It can’t be assigned merely to a committee, to a staff person, to one volunteer. There are ways in which everyone—custodians and janitors, technology specialists, musicians, artists, pastors, Sunday school teachers and church educators, youth group leaders, office managers, and staff persons within a church. Everybody can do something to make communities more responsive and more universally designed.

Barb was not done learning near the end of her life. The last year especially we had robust and instructive conversations about a topic that Barb leaves to us to continue. And it has to do with cultural difference and disability. We are deeply grateful for Barb’s work with our colleague here at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Maria Eugenia Cornou, and with our colleague and friend from North Carolina, Rev. Dr. LaTonya McIver Penny.

Barb and LaTonya, Barb and Maria did sessions together discussing these key themes that we’ve explored today, but then promoting deeper understanding about how these are experienced and how the response can be unique and suited to different cultural contexts.

I also recall vividly that after one Worship Symposium several years ago, one of the most fruitful conversations that Barb had happened in the Grand Rapids airport with one of our guests from an Asian country. And the conversation unfolded around all of the challenges related to how disability/ability—this spectrum of human difference—is discussed and embraced and understood in different cultural contexts.

We have a great deal to learn, and we invite you to join us as we continue to learn about these things going forward. Barb leaves us with a rich legacy of questions to continue to ask. And, indeed, it is our privilege to make a high priority to continue this learning going forward.

In that spirit, let me spend a few minutes as we move toward the close of this session, reflecting a bit about the learning journey of the next three weeks.

We receive from Barb these questions: What does universal design look like in different contexts? And responsive design? How does cultural difference factor in?

We need each other for this, and even though we are gathering in a very different way, we believe that we have all kinds of creative ways that we can be resourcing each other over these next three weeks.

As we gather, we especially invite you into a new form of participation in the Worship Symposium, and that is through active participation through online discussion comments. Thanks to all of you who have been posting material in the chat today. We are grateful. The chat from these live sessions is not something that lives on publicly after each session—but over on our website, the Worship Symposium website, you will find many places to contribute to an online discussion forum.

On the screen now you see three of them—expert-guided discussion boards. There’s no presentation here; it’s simply a place for asynchronous discussion over these next three weeks, led by some remarkably wise and thoughtful resource people:

  • On one of these discussion boards, we’ll be discussing digital life together—all the things we’ve learned about technology in the past year.
  • On another we’ll be discussing Christian history: What are ways that we can draw from the rich gifts that God has given us throughout history to inform worship today?
  • And on a third, we invite you to make contributions related to pastoral care and self-care. The tremendous exhaustion, fear, and anxiety that so many experience in ministry today. May this be a place of encouragement to each other.

But it’s not just in these three. After each of the on-demand sessions at this year’s Worship Symposium and following many of the other contributions that you will find on our website, you will see a place toward the bottom of each page for discussion comments. And we invite you to participate actively, to ask questions, to resource each other as we listen to voices from different communities and places around the world.

Second, as we journey together this year, we invite you to do another thing that’s a little different than some conferences, and that’s to pay attention to resource gathering. One of the projects that has been our joy to be a part of over these past several months is a search engine uniquely designed for preachers and also for worship leaders and also for any student of the Bible and theology. It’s called preachingandworship.org. It’s a search engine. In that way, it’s a little like Google, except it’s not like Google in that it searches only resources that have been curated, have been read, and come from a variety of reputable sources across the ecumenical spectrum.

Over 100,000 resources are already cataloged, and you can search them. Earlier today, in anticipation of this session, you could see that one of the trending searches today has to do with Barb Newman and universal design. We encourage you to make a search on the site for resources related to this session, but also to all the sessions that we engage in—and then to share some of the best insights with each other.

Together through this conference over the next several days, we will be worshipping together. Some services will be services of the Word, with preaching. Some, vespers services of prayer, much like at a Worship Symposium that we would host on campus.

You’ll have the opportunity to listen and participate in live events just like this, and also to watch several on-demand panels. And we hope that many of you will do that in community, finding someone in your neighborhood, your congregation, in your school, university to join with you in that common learning.

And we look forward to continuing until we can be together again, until we can have an in-person event—though we suspect that even our in-person events will grow because of all that we’re learning now about engaging online.

And now in this opening session, as I come toward the close, I would like to say several words of gratitude and thanks.

I would like to express deep gratitude to our collaborating partners with respect to the good work that Barb Newman has done—All Belong and Friendship Ministries, two organizations that Barb was deeply invested in that continue the good work of promoting an inclusive vision. We are cheering for you. We are cheering for you, Tory White, LaTonya McIver Penny, and all others who are carrying forth this inclusive vision into congregations.

We are also grateful for several collaborating partners on our campus. Those of us at the Worship Institute are deeply grateful for the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary. We are deeply grateful for the January Series at Calvin University that will launch here in just 40 minutes or so with its first of fifteen free and public lectures. We have several collaborations with the January Series this year and one joint event. And we’re grateful for their collaboration and warmly invite you to participate in and listen to all of those presentations.

We are grateful for our partnership with Reformed Worship magazine, a quarterly journal edited by the Rev. Joyce Borger that provides wonderful resources, and we encourage you to find them online—a way to continue the learning we’re engaged with together.

And we’re grateful for the team on campus that works on providing the technological support for preachingandworship.org as well as the Hymnary—a remarkable resource to search congregational song resources, visited almost 8 million times in 2020. It’s really an astonishing gift and we’re grateful to Professor Harry Plantinga and to the entire team that provides that resource to churches all over the world.

All of us at Calvin are deeply grateful to Lilly Endowment for their grant support of our work. And what a joy it is for us to extend that to congregations and to teacher-scholars through our grants program, the Vital Worship Grants Program. We’re so grateful for the way that has connected us with so many of you on this session, as I see several of your names rolling through on the chat, but also to many others, and we look forward to that continuing ministry.

We remember with great gratitude program officer John Wimmer of Lilly Endowment, who also passed away during the past year. He brought great encouragement, insight, and challenge to our work here at Calvin, and we are deeply grateful for the legacy of his prayerful life of service.

I would like also to express my personal gratitude to members of our staff. We at the Worship Institute have not met in person since March. We have been working entirely remotely. And it is a deep source of gratitude for me to think about the resourceful and creative work that each member of our staff has done, including the work to entirely revision this conference. We’re deeply grateful, Kristin Verhulst, for your leadership. We’re grateful for you, Will Groenendyk and Chan Gyu Jang, for all the technological support you’re providing. Grateful for you, Becky Snippe, and the remarkable work you’ve done in shaping worship practices.

And then the list goes on from there to those who have hosted sessions, prerecorded interviews, contributed insights. We’re deeply, deeply grateful.

Now there’s one person that I’d like to single out today who is also leaving a rich legacy. Our work at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship would not be possible without the lifelong contribution of Dr. Emily R. Brink. Emily Brink, pictured here in 2014 at a worship conference in Indonesia, was a world traveler. She retired once, maybe twice, maybe even three times, but just had one of the most fruitful careers of service but also one of the most fruitful experiences of retirement of anyone I can think of.

The next photo that you’ll see is of Emily, a photo that I took just yesterday as Emily was handing over the keys from her office at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship—her eighth office on campus, as she’s moved around in different roles that she’s had here over the past several years. She was handing over the keys, along with treasures on those bookshelves from all over the world.

There are a lot of you who are on this session who have a lot of frequent flyer miles, I think, but I’m not sure many of you have many more than Emily—all done in the service to build up the church and the kingdom of God. Now, Emily is close by to us on campus and we look forward to continuing communication with her. And I’m happy to say, I’ve already received some wonderful writing and contributions from her, and I’ve looked at those even after she’s handing over those keys yesterday.

So while Emily is marking a transition out of an official role on our staff, we are so grateful to be able to convey our gratitude to her, to celebrate God’s lavish gifts that have come to us through Emily, and to pray for her great flourishing in the years ahead. Thanks, Emily, so much. Standing ovation—I’m seeing it in the comments, and it’s wonderful to offer my amen.

We began with words from Ephesians 3, and I’d like to close in prayer today paraphrasing Paul’s words at the end of Ephesians 3. This is really a beautiful way to summarize our entire mission. It’s also a way to summarize our deep aspirations for this conference.

So please, wherever you are, will you join your hearts with me now in hearing these words from Ephesians 3 and then receiving words of encouragement as sung by members of our staff, the words of the Taizé song “In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful.”

Let us pray.

Lord our God, united as we are by your Spirit, we join with the apostle in bowing our knees before you, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. We pray that according to the riches of your glory, that you may grant that each of us in our own context may be strengthened in our inner being with power through your Holy Spirit.

And as we learn together and grow, each in our own context, we pray that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith as we are being rooted and grounded in love. And we pray for each other that we each, but also that we all together, may have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with the fullness of God.

Now to the one who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

May God be with you.

Music: “In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful”

In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful,
In the Lord I will rejoice.
Look to God, do not be afraid,
Lift up your voices, the Lord is near;
Lift up your voices the Lord is near.

"In the Lord, I'll Be Ever Thankful"
Text and Tune: based on Philippians 4:4-6, The Community of Taizé © 1991 Ateliers et Presses de Taizé, Taizé Community, France, GIA Publications, Inc., exclusive North American agent. All rights reserved. Reprinted and recorded under OneLicense.net A-703303.

Additional resources influenced by Barbara Newman from PreachingandWorship.org

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