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Calvin Announces 54 Worship Grants
May 10, 2005

The latest project of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship suggests it is as important to give as to receive.

After receiving renewed funding from Indiana-based Lilly Endowment Inc., the Worship Institute has announced its 2005 roster of recipients in the annual Worship Renewal Grants program.

For 2005 the Institute is awarding almost $700,000 to 54 churches and organizations across North America, using the support of its Lilly Endowment grant to give grants to congregations and other Christian organizations for projects they design to enrich and transform their worship.

The money will fund a variety of initiatives.

For instance a Baptist congregation in Cincinnati will study and incorporate historic traditions of African American worship through a 13-week study program. A Presbyterian congregation in San Francisco will work to extend hospitality throughout its multicultural and multigenerational congregation. A Christian Reformed Church in Salt Lake City will train area church choirs in the area of music leadership. And a Lutheran congregation located near a large medical facility will reflect on practices of prayers for healing (see the Worship Renewal Grants website for the complete list of all 54 projects).

"One of the most heartening parts of this process is discovering so many faithful and creative people at work outside the limelight, in ways that nourish the church but don't make headlines," says John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. "It's a testament to the number of vital but unheralded forms of the ministry of worship being carried out across North America."

The Worship Renewal Grants program, which began six years ago, is itself the beneficiary of a grant. The Worship Institute has received renewed funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. totaling $7.5 million for three years of programming through 2008. The grant, the largest foundation grant in the history of Calvin College, will help the Worship Institute continue its work as catalyst for renewal among a broad international, ecumenical constituency.

Witvliet says the Worship Renewal Grants Program is a good representation of the efforts of the Worship Institute as a whole. It focuses on grass-roots work in local communities, with Institute staff eager to offer encouragement, resources and expertise to fit each local context.

Says Witvliet: "We aim to do what church-related colleges and seminaries do best: mark off time and space for learning and teaching about what it means to live faithful Christian lives, and then push for implementing that vision in Christian communities."

Lilly Endowment Inc., an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation, has supported the Institute since 1998. As part of several broad, national funding initiatives, the Endowment has also awarded grants to Calvin Theological Seminary for educational programming in its "Making Connections Initiative," to the Christian Reformed Church for sustaining excellence in pastoral ministry, to Church of the Servant for a pastoral residency program, and to Calvin College for programs in the theological exploration of vocation.

"All these programs," Witvliet says, "speak of the Endowment's strong commitment to vital congregational life and ministry. They are a source of great encouragement and learning to so many people nationwide. We are grateful to be a part of this network."

The Worship Renewal Grants Program is only one of the Worship Institute’s projects that the Lilly grant will support. This most recent grant will also fund:

  • publication projects of both practical resources and scholarly research
  • collaborative research teams of scholars, pastors, and church leaders
  • academic courses at both Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary
  • an expanded collection of online resources
  • the Institute’s annual Symposium on Worship
  • summer seminars offered by Calvin’s nationally recognized Seminars in Christian Scholarship program
  • a roster of regional continuing education events across the United States and Canada

Since its inception in 1997, the Worship Institute has produced 19 scholarly and practical books, published a series of choral anthems, awarded over 300 grants to congregations, sponsored 75 conferences or training events and developed an extensive website of academic and pastoral resources visited by over 8,000 unique visitors per month.

Witvliet says the most recent grant affirms more than just the work of the Worship Institute.

"The grants are an affirmation of Calvin's campus-wide network of resources," he says. "We have been fortunate since our beginnings in 1997 to have available a multitude of partners at both Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary."

More than 50 Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary faculty over the past six years have been directly involved in Institute events as lecturers, writers, performers and consultants. The Institute's work is carried out by an energetic group of staff members, and is also supported by Calvin staff at the Prince Conference Center, Campus Events, printing, media relations, food service, and other campus organizations.

While the Worship Grant Renewal program may generate some of the Institute's most widespread impact, Witvliet says, it is not the only way the word is getting out.

Each January, the Institute's annual Symposium on Worship brings some 1,500 people to the Calvin campus for a weekend of reflection, learning, and worship. The Institute also goes on the road, delivering a variety of training sessions from coast to coast. And its publications and web resources have led to contacts with leaders in places as far away as Japan, New Zealand, Pakistan, India, and Egypt.

"Worship matters," Witvliet says. "Every week 100 million North Americans or more attend worship services. Despite widespread skepticism about organized religion, public worship services remain one of the most common religious practices. For all of this, Christian worship is not always well-practiced. Yet every day we are energized by learning from congregations as they ask and probe these topics. It is very gratifying work."