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Worship Institute Gets $7 Million Grant
January 24, 2008

The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is set to embark on its second decade of programming with new opportunities to shape national and international conversations about Christian worship practices.

John WitvlietAnd it will use a new $7 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to do so.

Institute director John D. Witvliet said that Calvin’s Worship Institute was first funded by Lilly Endowment Inc., an Indianapolis-based private philanthropic foundation, in 1998 and has received significant funding from Lilly Endowment ever since.

“We are deeply grateful for this generous support,” said Calvin College President Gaylen Byker. “It enables us to live out Calvin’s commitment to contribute to vital Christian practices in a variety of settings across North America and beyond.”

This most recent grant, which takes effect this month, will enable the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship to build on what it has learned as it looks at the future of Christian worship.

"In our culture,” Witvliet said, “it's so tempting for worship to be celebrity driven on the one hand, or to simply continue passively on automatic pilot on the other. We are eager to support and encourage the thousands of Christian leaders in all kinds of congregations that work to resist those temptations."

But, Witvliet added, the CICW does not want to be defined by what it is against.

10 Core Convictions

Christian worship is immeasurably enriched by :

1. a vivid awareness of the beauty, majesty, mystery, and holiness of the triune God

2. the full, conscious, active participation of all worshipers, in the context of a fully intergenerational community

3. deep engagement with scripture

4. joyful and solemn celebrations of baptism and the Lord's Supper, which focus squarely on the redemptive work of Jesus Christ in all of creation, and are deeply aware of how God's Spirit works to nurture and strengthen faith through these celebrations

5. balanced approach to culture

6. disciplined creativity in the arts

7. collaboration with congregational ministries

8. hospitality

9. intentional integration between worship and all of life; we are called to live in a worshipful way

10. collaborative planning and evaluation

Instead the CICW has postulated a sort of worship 10 commandments, what it calls its “10 core convictions about worship.” These are items, Witvliet said, that focus squarely on the core of authentic, meaningful Christian worship, and call congregations to ask better questions about what they are trying to accomplish in worship.

"First on the list," said Witvliet, "is a profound awareness of the glory, beauty, and holiness of the triune God."

And while that sets a good tone for the remaining nine items, all 10 are important, Witvliet believes.

So, second on the list is the participation of a fully intergenerational community, in which people of all ages are welcomed as full participants. Number three calls for deep engagement with scripture, through intentional reading practices, vibrant preaching, engaging art and music, with a particular focus on the biblical Psalms. Number five suggests a balanced approach to one’s cultural context that simultaneously affirms transcultural, contextual, cross-cultural, and counter-cultural dimensions to worship practice.

The 10 core convictions close with number nine -- palpable connections between worship and life, so that the worship life of Christian congregations both reflects and shapes lives of grateful obedience, deeply engages with the needs of the world, including such specific areas as restorative justice, care for the earth, and poverty -- and number 10 -- a collaborative process for planning and evaluating services in the context of an adaptive approach to overall congregational leadership.

Witvliet said the goal for the Worship Institute over the next three years is to generate new learning and conviction about these 10 fundamentals throughout its entire range of programming: academic research, practical conferences, grantmaking, and publications.

The ripple effect for this new focus could be enormous.

In the 10 years of its existence, the Worship Institute has given more than 450 grants to congregations and other groups interested in worship, welcomed over 15,000 people to its conferences and training events, welcomed guests from over 40 countries, and produced more than 30 books and an extensive website ( -- all in partnership with more than 70 current and former Calvin College faculty and staff, over 300 other conference presenters and writers, and over two dozen other ecumenical organizations, publishers, colleges, denominations, and seminaries.

But the institute, Witvliet stressed, is about more than raw numbers, including the recent $7 million grant.

"We are much more interested in having a single congregation discover the life-changing joy and profound significance of authentic Christian worship than simply perpetuating conferences and publications for their own sake. All of our work is directed toward renewed vitality in Christian worship and living.”

Witvliet added:“We approach this work as one partner in a broad ecology of ministry, working in collaboration with denominations, congregations, and publishers to learn about and deepen contemporary worship practices. Learning and inquiry are at the heart of what we do, a fitting mission for a college-based institute."

The Worship Institute has received positive feedback about the pastoral significance of each of these core convictions from leaders in several denominations.

"These core convictions arise squarely out of the confessional tradition in which we stand, but also offer a promising basis for constructive collaborative learning across the ecumenical spectrum," Witvliet said.

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