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Calvin Grants for Worship Renewal

Congregations from a wide variety of denominations and cultures across North America will benefit from a new $1.2 million grant awarded to Calvin College by Lilly Endowment Inc.

The grant will allow Calvin's Institute of Christian Worship to award over $1 million to congregations across North America as part of its "Worship Renewal Grants Program" over the next two years. The Institute will also host each grant recipient on Calvin's campus to share insights about worship renewal and to work collaboratively with other congregations.

"This news is very gratifying," says Institute director John Witvliet (above), "not only for Calvin, but especially for the congregations all over North America who will benefit from this program. This year we will be able to provide resources for creative and thoughtful congregational leaders who will work out ways to improve and revitalize worship. The work they do will inspire other churches. It's a very exciting project to be part of."

In 1998, Calvin was awarded a previous grant from Lilly Endowment for $1.3 million, of which $500,000 was designated for the Worship Renewal Grants Program. The initial grant allowed the Institute of Christian Worship to give 12 sub-grants last year totaling almost $150,000.

With the new Lilly grant, Calvin can effectively quadruple the size of its Worship Renewal Grants Program. Instead of giving 12 grants this year, Calvin is awarding almost 50, most between $5,000 and $15,000, totaling over $600,000. It will do the same in 2001.

The new grants, which will officially be announced later this week, will go to congregations in both Canada and the United States, stretching from Vancouver, B.C., to Tampa, Florida, and from San Diego, Ca., to Boston, Mass. Those congregations represent a dozen denominations, including African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and multi-ethnic churches.

The grants will fund worship conferences in Arizona, California and South Carolina, extended worship courses in California and Florida, worship leader training sessions in South Dakota and Manitoba, the composition of new worship music in British Columbia and Virginia, child and youth worship programs in California and Ohio, and church architecture projects in Pennsylvania and Illinois.

States and provinces represented include: Arizona, British Columbia, California (3), Colorado, Florida, Illinois (5), Indiana (3), Iowa, Kansas, Manitoba, Massachusetts, Michigan (3), Missouri (2), New York, North Carolina, Ohio (3), Ontario, Pennsylvania (4), South Carolina (3), South Dakota, Texas (2), Virginia (4), Washington (2) and Wisconsin.

Institute Program Manager Cindy Holtrop says Calvin had expected to receive 50-60 grant applications last year for 12 grants. Instead it received over 260 from some 30 states and provinces and 20 different denominations.

"It was very difficult to say 'no' to so many fine proposals," says Holtrop. "Now we are grateful to be able to say 'yes' much more often!"

"We were very pleasantly surprised by this positive response," Witvliet says. "It confirms that there are many people eager to do some creative and reflective work on worship. It also tells us that there are many congregations quite stressed about worship-related issues who are looking for guidance."

Guidance is one of the ways the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship tries to help both churches to which it has given grants, but also other churches around the world who are struggling with worship. The Institute office fields questions and inquiries from dozens of congregations each month, and posts a variety of resources on the web at

"With this (Worship Grants Renewal) Program," says Witvliet, "Calvin offers something that is national and ecumenical. That's a big part of our mission. We want to be a resource to all kinds of Christian churches. In all these exchanges, we want to promote a level of theological depth and reflection that leads to a gospel-centered understanding of worship. Working with all of these churches helps us to understand the challenges and struggles of worship. We learn even more than we are able to teach and we are now eager to expand our learning and sharing with an even wider pool of congregations."

Witvliet notes that, to his knowledge, there is no other grant-making program in the area of worship comparable to Calvin's program. Calvin's Worship Grants Renewal Program includes a national advisory board. Members are Eleanor Bernstein, director of the Center for Pastoral Liturgy at Notre Dame; William Dyrness, academic dean at Fuller Theological Seminary; Cindy Holtrop, program manager of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Duane Kelderman, pastor of Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids; Lester Ruth, a Methodist pastor and assistant professor of worship at Yale Divinity School; Karen Ward, associate director for worship for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Witvliet.

Lilly Endowment Inc. is an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation created in 1937. Lilly Endowment exists to support causes of education, community development, and religion.

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Contact Phil de Haan.