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Worship Symposium Celebrates 25 Years


The Calvin Symposium on Worship celebrated its 25th anniversary this year with an event that drew 1,800 people from 30 countries around the world.

Symposium participants learn how to play the African drum.

The three-day symposium in Grand Rapids, Mich., was organized by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary.

It wasn’t always so grand. It began in 1988 as a half-day Symposium on Worship and Church Music with 30 to 40 attendees, mostly pastors and worship leaders.

What hasn’t changed is its broad content, according to John Witvliet, director of the Institute, and the original organizer of Symposium. By its second year, the event included sessions on worship space and lament in worship.

That broad approach has continued, with sessions this year on the Power of Story by Mark Charles, a Navajo man, and the use of African and Latin American hand percussion in worship.

For the first time this year, a bilingual Spanish/English seminar was held by three Latin American leaders.

Also attending this year were over 200 high school and college students at a seminar on Planning and Leading Worship in High School Chapels.

Symposium has a legacy that exceeds its growth in length and attendance. The interest level in the event led in part to the founding of the Calvin Institute of Worship 15 years ago, according to Witvliet. Reformed Worship, the quarterly worship journal published by Faith Alive, has been a partner with Symposium for all 25 years as well.

Fewer than half of attendees are Christian Reformed, making it one of the most ecumenical events sponsored by a CRC ministry. According to Witvliet, that takes the focus off of denominational issues and puts it on shared ministry challenges in the larger Christian community.

Symposium has also given rise to similar events in Asia, Central America, and Europe, all of which are linked to the Calvin event. The most recent of those involved 600 people in Hong Kong, including 150 people from mainland China.

Tyson Capel, director of youth and congregational life at Beckwith Hills Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., was a first-time attendee this year.

“One of the highlights for me has been the challenge to not be afraid of lament, but being honest and comfortable with voicing the struggle. Anne Zaki spoke about Psalm 113 and how to praise God in the midst of being in the ashes. She presented a powerful picture of how God stoops down and reaches out to us,” he said.

“We are so grateful for 25 years of worshiping God and learning together with people from all over North America, and now also from around the world,” said Kathy Smith, associate director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. “It is our prayer that Symposium will continue to be a catalyst for learning and growth in the worship lives of many people and congregations.”

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