At the Calvin Symposium on Worship

I’m at the Calvin Symposium on Worship in Grand Rapids, Michigan – program is here.

This symposium a huge– over 1,550 participants this year. It is put on by the very impressive Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, which has – if you can imagine – 20 people on its staff, full-time and part-time.

The program booklet says there are 45 countries represented here. The list starts with Argentina, Brazil, Burma, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, China, Cuba, Dominican Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt… Then there’s Ireland, Scotland, and Hungary, but no other countries from Europe are represented. The music at the worship services wonderfully reflects the global church.

I’m here with five liturgical music students from St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary. We’re grateful that our attendance is made possible by the Vital Worship grant we got from the Calvin institute, funded by Lilly Endowment. (Do you know the line about Lilly as “the church’s one foundation”?) One-year grants for the renewal of worship of up to $15,000 are possible – I strongly encourage congregations, dioceses, synods, and religious communities to consider applying.

Organizer and general Man in Charge John Witvliet – who btw is on the editorial board of our Worship journal – tells me that the symposium’s offerings that are more theological and theoretical tend to attract more participants than the practical, hands-on sessions. I would haven’t expected this and was kind of heartened to hear it. (As one wag put it, “That’s fine in practice, but how does it play out in theory?”)

You’re probably already seen this in worship circles: the line at worship services here is “Please stand in body or in spirit,” replacing the once-common “Please stand as you are able.” It’s a gracious way to express the sentiment, but it got me thinking. Is it an either-or? Can I do both? But I don’t suppose you’d wanna use the mouthful “Please stand either in both body and spirit or just in spirit.” And then there are those who might stand in body but not in spirit – on low days I’ve been known to murmur in the monastery that I’m religious but not spiritual. So where are we at? “Please stand in body and/or in spirit”? Nah. I think everyone knows what they mean, and that’s the whole point. I like “Please stand in body or in spirit.”

As we arrived at the symposium I kidded to our grad students, “There are going to be a lot of Protestants at this thing, so everyone be careful.” They smiled (or groaned) – they know of my strong ecumenical commitments. We’re soaking in ecumenical atmosphere here – more evangelical than mainstream Protestant, it seems  – reflecting deeply on it, and learning a lot.


The participation of Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary students is made possible through a Vital Worship Grant from Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, with funds provided by Lilly Endowment Inc.


  1. Perhaps some worship leaders can estimate what percentage of their assemblies stand in spirit only, in body and spirit, and in body only! I suspect the last group is larger than we’d like to admit.

  2. You know, there’s a literalism about all this that seems to me excessive.

    If you follow this impulse to its natural conclusion, you’ll have to have qualifications for just about everything we say or do in liturgy. Liturgical language is just not that literal.

    Lift up your hearts, or not as the case may be. Let us rejoice and be glad, except if you are sorrowing. Oh Lord I am not worthy, but some days I am more worthy than others. Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker, but you can kneel spiritually if you have bad knees. It rather assumes people are lost without minute instructions.

    1. Thank you Rita!–almost 50 years into the new Mass, we still need these instructions and interruptions in the flow of the Mass? That this has to be “a thing” doesn’t say much for liturgical renewal. I remember early on when my father was a “commentator” at Mass and told the congregation when to sit, stand, kneel, come to Holy Communion, etc. We’re past it. No wonder that there are still folk who prefer the old Mass.

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