Calvin Institute: Vital Worship Grants

I was blessed this past week to attend a colloquium at the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship at Calvin College in Michigan. It was for those who are beginning their grant year and those who, like us at St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary, are completing their grant yearn as recipients of a Vital Worship grant.

Vital Worship grants of up to $15,000 are given to Christian congregations and organizations in order to renew some aspect of their worship life. 42 grants have been awarded for this coming year. Two of these are going to Roman Catholic organizations; the rest are going to Protestant (including Anglican/Episcopal and Lutheran) and nondenominational organizations.

Summaries of all the grants from the past and coming year were given to colloquium participants. I was interested in four themes I saw running through the new grants for the coming year: youth, diversity, the arts, and sacramental-theological language.


One Episcopal church will develop children’s liturgical pageants (1); another will “nourish vibrant intergenerational singing” to “engage unchurched youngsters” using world church music and reviving psalmody (2). One Methodist church will develop intergenerational worship to “merge the chasm between our youth, young adults and seniors,” foreseeing a possible challenge from those who prefer “traditionalism and/or Methodist (high church) form of worship” (3). One ministry will work on “faith formation for children through worship” (4). Another church will seek “to disciple our children in passionate worship!” (5).


It is striking how many grants involve themes of diversity, multicultural worship, and inclusion. A UCC church will seek to revive African-American cultural traditions, noting that “ours is a graying congregation” (6). One Baptist community will “build equal meaningful relationships between members of our congregation and our new Presbyterian Hispanic/Latino congregation” (7). A Presbyterian church will “encourage worship that reflects our church’s diversity” (8). A predominantly African-American community will face the challenge of drawing other groups in “to become a multi-ethnic worshiping community” (9). Another African-American congregation will strive to include those with disabilities (10). An African Methodist Episcopal (AME) district will explory the “theology and practice of cross-cultural worship” (11). A Methodist church will “develop multicultural, just, anti-racist worship practices” (12). One group will “provide Presbyterians with a deeper exposure to global worship” (13). Another Presbyterian church will “explore worship with congregations for a diverse community” (14).


One university will explore arts as a conduit for worship, facing the challenge of “Eurocentric religious artifacts that ignore cultural identity” of this predominantly African-American community (15). One Presbyterian church will employ “jazz worship in nourishing missional disciples in Canada’s most secular region” (16). One university reclaiming its Christian identity will “turn the chapel into a sacred space” (again) (17). One ministry will develop “choreographed liturgical dance for outdoor worship” (18). One chapel will “promote arts and creativity in worship and theology” because they “see artists as disconnected from and marginalized by the church” (19). One university will “s strengthen communal worship through visual arts” (20). One church will “resource creative, liturgical art drawn from Revelation” (21). A Methodist church will use art to “break down barriers of culture” (22).


Fruits of ecumenical liturgical renewal are seen in the extensive use of sacramental and liturgical language in several proposals. A Methodist church will develop an “intergenerational, multicultural Eucharistic worship” with “everyday lived Eucharistic community,” to “engage in service to the larger community as an act of worship” (23). A Lutheran seminary will promote implementation of the catechumenate in eight ELCA and LCMS congregations (24). A Baptist church states that “we see life as liturgy” (25). Another Baptist church writes that “through bread and wine, water and word, song and prayer, we become part of the incredibly rich and diverse body of Christ” (26). A Lutheran college is developing a lectionary that fits the academic year experience of students for the service currently not using the Revised Common Lectionary (27). One Reformed church asks, “Does our liturgy bring people into the presence of God?” (28). A Catholic campus ministry will “explore the relationship between Mass and hospitality (29).

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The daily worship services at Calvin Worship Institute events are, in my experience, inspiring experiences. The preaching and musicianship, the reading and dancing and dramatic reenactment, the hospitality and congregational engagement are all very well done. The style is much more Protestant and evangelical than I am accustomed to, and I very much appreciate how accessible and high energy it is. The multicultural aspect – I’m thinking especially of the music and body movement of the black church – is especially powerful for me. And while there is not ordinarily a fixed order of worship or use of a lectionary as in my liturgical tradition, the services are always well-planned and have a natural flow and structure to them.

So I felt I was being just a bit provincial and narrow when I said to myself (and a good friend) on the way to our last conference worship service, morning prayer on the final day, that I wish the commendable diversity at Calvin could extend once in more liturgical or Catholic or monastic direction. Sung Morning Prayer, say, from the Book of Common Prayer. Or something that spoke to us coming from contemplative and traditional worship traditions. But as I say, I was being provincial and narrow – so I struck the thought from my mind and opened myself up for another great, switched-on worship experience at Calvin.

Morning prayer that day was… Lectio Divina in the monastic tradition! Quiet, prayerful, silent reflection on a short passage of scripture, as (we were told) Christians in the Benedictine and Cistercian tradition have been doing for 1,600 years. With credit in the leaflet given to Seeing the Word from Liturgical Press and the School of Theology in Collegeville.

Once again, God has a great sense of humor.


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Organizations cited in this report:

1- All Angels Church, New York City; 2- St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, New London, NH; 3- Allen Chapel, Hartford CT; 4- Church Music Ministry of Canada, Vancouver; 5- City Church of Compton, CA; 6- Community Congregational Church (UCC), Montgomery, AL; 7- Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty, Louisville, KY; 8- Knox Presbyterian Church, Toronto; 9- Liberty and Truth Ministries and Angie Saccaro Ministries, Milwaukee; 10- New Mount Zion Baptist Church, Roxboro, NC; 11- Phoenix-Alberquerque District of the AME; 12- Sunnyside United Methodist Church, Kalamazoo, MI; 13- The Outreach Foundation, Franklin, TN; 14- Trinity Presbyterian Church, Charlottesville, VA; 15- Allen University, Columbia, SC; 16- Brentwood Presbyterian Church, Burnaby, BC; 17- University of Dubuque Campus Ministry, IA; 18- Cathedral in the Night Ministry, Amherst, MA; 19- City Chapel, Grand Rapids, MI; 20- Indiana Wesleyan University, Marion, IN; 21-  Pillar Church, Holland, MI; 22-St. Paul United Methodist Church, Frankfort, KY; 23- Asbury United Methodist Church, Woodlynne, NJ; 24- Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO; 25- Grace Baptist Church, Richmond VA; 26- First Baptist Church, McMinnville, OR; 27- Luther College, Decorah, IA; 28- New Life Christian Reformed Church, Grand Junction, CO; 29- Saint Mary’s College Campus Ministry, Notre Dame, IN.

Vital Worship Grants from Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan, are made possible with funds provided by Lilly Endowment Inc.



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