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January 3, 2002

Calvin Given $7 Million
John Witvliet

Calvin College has received a $7 million grant from the Lilly Endowment Inc. for a project called "Vibrant Worship, Healthy Congregations: A National, Ecumenical Worship Renewal Initiative." The four-year project (2002-2005) will be run under the direction of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, quickly becoming one of the country's most respected worship resources.

The grant will fund an integrated set of initiatives designed to energize and deepen the practice of Christian worship in congregations throughout North America.

The project consists of three program areas:

  • training events for congregational leaders, including conferences, extended retreats and academic courses
  • published and internet resources for both practical weekly worship planning and deep analysis and reflection on worship practices
  • program grants to local communities developing initiatives designed to foster grass-roots worship renewal

"These programs are designed to function," says John Witvliet (above), director of the Worship Institute, "as the energizing center of a nationwide network of people working toward theologically informed, congregation-based, grass roots worship renewal. The ultimate goal of these programs is to help congregations experience tangible worship renewal, to experience deeper and richer expressions of Christian community and to be recognized as vibrant and healthy manifestations of the body of Christ."

Institute staff expect that conference and training events will attract over 7,000 leaders from 2,000 congregations nationwide. Meanwhile, the grants program will fund projects in a minimum of 150 congregations over three years, while over 30 congregations will participate in a worship formation program and over 200 congregational leaders will participate in a significant month-long pastor's seminar or intensive seminary-level course of study.

Witvliet also believes that it is possible that new instructional resources will be used at several seminaries, and have the potential to shape the way a generation of future pastors is trained. In addition, the proposed programs are designed to provide opportunities for over 1,000 youth, the next generation of church leaders, to participate in significant ways.

"All the programs," says Cindy Holtrop, Program Manager at the Institute, are "designed to meet significant identified current needs among Christian congregations. Literally hundreds of congregations nationwide are struggling to negotiate changes in worship practices. These changes influence nearly every aspect of congregational life."

Witvliet notes that the pace and diversity of change is bewildering for many congregational leaders. "Congregations," he says, "need well-trained pastoral leaders with experience and insights in the area of worship. And the role of laypersons in congregations seems to be growing. In this context, there is an unfortunate division in many conversations between preaching and worship, between pastors and musicians and other worship leaders. Congregations need healthy models for integrated discussions of worship."

The grant from the Endowment marks the largest grant ever to Calvin and the third-biggest gift ever to the school, eclipsed only by a pair of $10 million gifts in 1999 from the DeVos Foundation and the Prince Foundation.

Witvliet was understandably elated by the grant and quick to note that the grant is made possible by the work of many strong academic and administrative departments at both Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary.

"It's stunning," he said. "I'm incredibly excited about the opportunities this gift will open up for us. And I'm very aware of the sense of responsibility that comes with a grant like this. We have been entrusted with enormous resources. Now we need to use them well."

The Institute plans to use some of the money for expansion of its annual Calvin Symposium on Worship and the Arts, which provides instruction, inspiration, and networking for a national, ecumenical audience of 1,000 pastors, musicians, artists, and other worship leaders. That will include an expanded high school scholarship program and a conference track for student worship leaders from colleges.

More cooperative regional and national conferences also are on the docket, including a series of annual continuing education events in West Michigan and nationally, that will involve both Institute staff and a leadership team that includes students. Calvin also will begin a Congregational Worship Formation Program which every year would see 12 congregations commit to an assessment of their congregational worship life, participation in a weeklong summer course at Calvin Seminary taught by Institute staff, the development of a plan for congregational education, and long range worship planning.

Other efforts include such activities as: a common reading program for 120 local lay and ordained Christian leaders in reading and study groups each year; a summer seminar program for pastors that could include a month-long sabbatical experience of reading, study, an intensive week-long continuing education event for preachers and worship leaders, with a special focus on communication skills needed for preaching and worship leadership, and a Worship Institute Residency Program which would bring highly skilled practitioners to Calvin's campus to participate as leaders in Institute events, guest lecturers at college and seminary courses, or participants in chapel services.

The Institute website will be expanded to become both multilingual and multimedia. The site will be expanded to include such things as a worship leaders' handbook, with practical resources for weekly-worship planning; a resource library in at least three languages (English, Spanish, and Korean); a video library of videoclips of baptism, Lord's Supper, music, preaching, and prayer practices from around the world; recordings of excellent, accessible worship music, including sound recordings from worship services at all our conference events; an image bank of outstanding, contemporary sketches and images designed by college and university art students, which congregations can download for use in educational and worship programming, including bulletin covers and Power Point presentations; and a photo gallery of outstanding liturgical spaces, designed for use by building committees of congregations exploring either redesign of their current worship space or new construction.

Seminaries will be helped by a new Teaching of Worship Multi-Media Resource Project which will develop a new comprehensive resource for teaching worship in seminaries nationwide. A team of scholars will work collaboratively over three years on the design of seminary worship courses and to produce a widely disseminated multi-media teaching resource for seminaries across North America.

There also will be new research initiatives on worship and technology, studying and analyzing the use of presentation technology in worship, and youth, worship and spiritual development.

"The proposed programs," observed Holtrop, "are all designed to address these particular needs by encouraging deeper theological reflection, assessing current trends, training pastors and congregational leaders, and encouraging healthier patterns of common learning and communication with congregations."

Founded in 1937, the Indianapolis-based Endowment is devoted to the causes of religion, education and community development.

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Contact Phil de Haan
616-957-6475 (v)
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