For over 35 years, the Calvin Symposium on Worship has annually gathered together worshipers from many Christian traditions across Canada, the US, and beyond, bringing together people from a variety of roles in worship and leadership, including pastors, worship planners and leaders, musicians, scholars, students, worship bands and teams, organists, visual artists, preachers, chaplains, missionaries, liturgists, council and session leaders, and more. Cosponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary, the Symposium aims to encourage leaders in churches and worshiping communities of all sizes and settings.

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Abraham Kuyper's Surprisingly Relevant Theology of Liturgy

John D. Witvliet, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

Before Abraham Kuyper became a university leader and prime minister, he was a church historian and pastor. He wrote copiously and passionately about many topics, including both the devotional and liturgical dimension of worship. His writing offers much to challenge and deepen our own experience of worship, exploring how we can imagine heaven as we worship, how we can elicit sincere worship, and how we can perceive God’s action in and through worship. Come ready to think theologically and to leave with a set of sparkling quotations to provoke discussions in your ministry contexts back home.

Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship: Vertical Habits In Action

Betty Grit, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
Barbara J. Newman, All Belong Center for Inclusive Education

This workshop will give practical and innovative ideas for welcoming people of all ability levels into your worship service by using the framework of Vertical Habits—a set of habits that identify the words of worship that form our relationship with God and the way we live out our faith. Worship leaders, pastors, education volunteers, and worship planners will discover new ways to have each one enter into your corporate conversation with God.

Accompanying in the Gospel Style with Organ and Piano

Michael Gittens

When organists and pianists accompany hymns together they often limit themselves to the notes they find on the page. The effect can be that everything sounds the same. In this session, church musician Michael Gittens will demonstrate techniques for creating clear, rhythmic and inspiring accompaniments in the gospel style, playing to the strengths of each instrument.

Becoming Instruments of God: Singing and Worship

Awet Andemicael

How can we, as musicians and lay and ordained ministers, cultivate our bodies as active instruments of God? In this workshop, participants will engage in guided spiritual-musical exercises to explore how the imagination, breath, vocal tone, and words—offered to God—can facilitate embodied individual and communal experiences of prayer, praise, and worship. Participants will also discuss how spiritual-musical formation such as this can enhance their effectiveness in music leadership roles in congregational settings.

Biblical Storytelling Master Class

Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence, Calvin Theological Seminary

In 1 Timothy, Paul says, ". . . devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture," to his friend Timothy. One way we can devote ourselves to Scripture is by learning it by heart and telling it others. In this workshop, participants will be invited to participate by presenting, in the style of a storyteller, Scripture passages they have learned by heart. Participants are invited (not required) to present a text they have worked on in advance for discussion, encouragement, and constructive critique. Those who are unfamiliar with this style of Scripture presentation may hear familiar texts anew!

Children's Books about Worship

Kristen Verhulst, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

There are a number of wonderful picture and children’s books that help church school leaders, educators, and parents teach children about worship. These books focus on the sacraments, Christian year, the psalms, and prayer. Children’s books provide another means to welcome and engage children (and adults!) in worship as full members of the body of Christ.

From Missional Worship to Missional Living and Back Again

Chris Schoon ThD, Christian Reformed Church in North America

Mission and worship have quite a history of being kept separate from each other. But what if they were intended to flow into each other, to be mutually edifying? In this session, we’ll explore characteristics of a missional approach to worship, paying attention to how our communal worship forms us for a missional way of life and how this missional living in turn pours back into our communal worship.

Glorifying God in Worship

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

The Scriptures are full of glory. Israel is told by prophets to "give glory to the Lord." Angels at Jesus’ birth sing "Glory to God in the highest heaven." In John’s Gospel the Father and the Son glorify each other. And in the Psalms and I Chronicles people are told to "ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name." But how would this go in worship today? What, exactly, does it mean to glorify God in worship? Isn’t God already maximally splendid? What more can mere mortals add?

Harmony on the Staff: Preachers and Musicians Should Be Friends

Wendie Brockhaus
Mike Graves PhD, Saint Paul School of Theology

We usually think of harmony in relation to music, but it also applies to church staffs. In the musical Oklahoma the farmer and cowman weren’t always friends, the one protecting turf and the other desiring freedom. Unfortunately, something similar happens with preachers and musicians who must work together weekly in planning and leading the church’s worship. Preachers don’t always understand music and musicians who must plan worship well in advance; musicians don’t always have theological training and appreciate the weekly burden of sermon preparation which can be in flux down to the very last moment. In this interactive workshop led by a preacher and musician we will explore how the two groups can better understand and appreciate each other.

How (Not) to Preach in the Secular Age

Timothy Blackmon

Many of my friends have a very different take on life. They hope to find personal significance without God. The gospel story I preach seems neither plausible or all that relevant. Philosopher Charles Taylor explains "we are now living in a spiritual supernova, a kind of galloping pluralism on the spiritual plane." This workshop is a brief field guide on how (not) to preach and teach the gospel in a secular age.

In-Between Words

Paul Ryan, Calvin College
Worship Apprentices

Scripture readings, sermons, and songs take up most of the time in a worship service. But it’s often what happens in between them that is most telling. Those little words and phrases that welcome guests, introduce songs, and prepare us for prayer make all the difference for encouraging full participation in worship. These phrases are crucial for extending hospitality and for forming congregations for deep engagement with God and each other.

La danza multicultural: Sus implicaciones para el culto cristiano

Fernando A. Cascante-Gómez

Usando la danza como metáfora y el texto de Mateo sobre el encuentro de Jesús con la mujer sirofenecia, los(as) participantes en este taller podrán distinguir tres pasos a seguir al relacionarnos con personas de diferentes trasfondos étnico-culturales. Juntos(as) discerniremos algunas de las implicaciones conceptuales y prácticas de esos pasos al planear e implementar el culto en un contexto multicultural.

Leading Worship in a Post-Christian, Low-Biblical Literacy Age: Practical Lessons from Church History about the Catechetical Dimensions of Worship

Gerald L. Sittser

When we gather for worship, we long to have many people present who do not yet know the Bible well. We also long to have life-long worshipers, including our children and youth, come to know the Bible well. How can worship be led in ways that embrace these goals, in ways that foster greater love for and knowledge of God’s word? How can church history challenge us to imagine very practical ways of shaping warm, instructive, life-giving worship practices?

Lecciones del culto antiguo para la iglesia de hoy

Catherine Gonzalez, Columbia Theological Seminary

Los descubrimientos del siglo pasado sobre el culto en la iglesia antigua muestran claramente que tanto el culto católico como el protestante habían perdido algunos elementos fundamentales que era necesario recuperar. El movimiento de renovación litúrgica ha tomado esto en cuenta, y ha hecho un impacto enorme en muchas iglesias. Este seminario mostrará cómo una mejor comprensión de estos temas puede ser de valor para la iglesia de hoy.

Links in the Liturgy: Creating "Flow" in a Worship Service

Howard Vanderwell, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

Are your worship services more like a novel which pursues a common theme, or a magazine that has a whole collection of elements which may (or may not) have much to do with each other? Vital worship can often be strengthened by an overall theme which holds it all together faithfully, and worship leaders will want to understand how creating links can help the service to be a complete conversation with God, flowing smoothly from one step to another. While this takes different forms in different worship traditions, we’ll explore the importance of these links, how best to create them, and how that shapes our leadership roles.

Listening to Your Listeners: A Preaching Preparation Process That Changes... Everything!

Lori J. Carrell, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

A vast majority of listeners attending U.S. churches have never talked with a pastor about a sermon. And, unfortunately, those listeners report by the thousands that though they expect spiritual growth as they listen to their preachers, it usually does not occur. Preachers who listen to their listeners as a regular part of sermon preparation can expect to change these patterns, increasing the spiritual impact of preaching for individuals, congregations, communities—and culture. During this workshop, participants will discover how diverse congregations have established and maintained pre-sermon dialogue groups (without adding to the preachers’ limited sermon prep time!).

Liturgy, Anthropology, and Life Cycle

Kathy Smith, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

How do children worship best? How can worship help young people through the teen years? What practices of worship resonate most with adults and elderly people? This workshop will look at the human life cycle and the developmental stages that all people grow through (cognitive, sensorimotor, psychological, moral, and faith development), and will consider what this means for all ages to participate fully in worship.

Moving Worship: How to Create Movement

Julia Start Fletcher, Millbrook Christian Reformed Church

Where do we start? How do we even begin to create movement? Where can we find inspiration? Join us, and find out how to put dances together; whether you’re working with trained dancers, or not trained "pedestrians."

Moving Worship: What IS Liturgical Dance?

Julia Start Fletcher, Millbrook Christian Reformed Church

Christian liturgy consists of a holy conversation between God and the gathered community. Dance, movement, and gesture may seem silent—but they powerfully shape our experience of this conversation. Come ready to explore how dance, movement, and gesture can be used in many different elements of the worship dialogue, both through leadership of trained dancers and in people in the pews.

Prayer around the Cross: Unpacking the Liturgies

Susan Briehl
Tom Witte

Discover the shape and essential elements of this meditative form of prayer akin to the practices Taizé, Iona, and Holden Village, a center for renewal in Washington State. Explore both musical and liturgical resources and imagine how to incorporate or create such liturgies in your setting. Participants in this workshop are encouraged to attend the vesper service at 4:15 on Thursday or Friday, led by Susan Briehl and Tom Witt, before attending this workshop.


Graham Kendrick

Can we engage in sung worship together without knowing the songs, without a song-list or chord charts, using 100% God-inspired words, while being responsive to the Holy Spirit and creatively and musically adventurous all at the same time? I say yes! Come and see if you agree.

Psalmody for Holy Week

Martin Tel, Princeton Theological Seminary

The gospel writers relied heavily on the Psalms to tell the story of Christ’s suffering and crucifixion. Using the Psalter resource Psalms for All Seasons, we will explore different ways that the congregation can engage the Psalms in Holy Week services.

Psalms for All Seasons as a Resource for Choirs

Martin Tel, Princeton Theological Seminary

The choir is an excellent conduit for bringing psalmody back into the heart of worshiping communities. Members of the Princeton Seminary Choir will demonstrate how musical settings from the psalter Psalms for All Seasons can be augmented by the choir or presented as choral anthems. Particular attention will be given to resourcing the smaller church ensemble or intergenerational choirs.

Public Worship and the Many Layers of Gospel-Shaped Reconciliation

David M. Bailey, Arrabon
Mwenda Ntarangwi
Kathy Smith
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Berkeley College
David Rylaarsdam

Seven Streams of 21st Century Congregational Song: Skills for Leading The People's Song in a Musically Multilingual World

Michael Hawn, Southern Methodist University
James Abbington, Candler School of Theology
William N. Heard
Jorge Lockward
Emmett G. Price III, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Martin Tel, Princeton Theological Seminary

The last forty years has not only featured a profusion of new congregational songs, but also a profusion in new types and styles of congregational song. Musicians are increasingly called to be adept at leading quite different types of songs—as well as working collaboratively to empower others to do so. This seminar will present a clear, vivid description of seven streams of congregational song, and provide practical tools and examples for the unique kinds of leadership skills needed for music in each stream to enliven singing in your community.

Seven Streams: Negotiating the Widening River of Congregational Song

Emily R. Brink, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

We’ll explore both Glory to God (Presbyterian) and Lift Up Your Hearts (Christian Reformed Church in North America and Reformed Church in America), both published in 2013, for how they included many newer streams of congregational song that have joined the traditional hymn. Have you noticed that few contemporary "hymnals" today even use the word "hymn" or "hymnal" in their titles? "Hymns" don’t acknowledge the many different streams that have joined the main river of congregational song, including choruses, responses, spirituals, contemporary songs of all types, and global songs. How do congregations, let alone hymnals, respond to all that diversity? How do we swim in this much wider river of song?

Singing for Faith Formation: Nourishing Songs for Worship

Norma de Waal Malefyt, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
Rebecca Snippe, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

Our time together will explore song resources especially from the new songbook Lift Up Your Hearts and their selection process that will guide a congregation’s faith development through song. We will think about how songs that are chosen not only express, but form faith.

Singing the Creeds

Miranda Dodson

Together we will discuss the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed and examine a few musical versions of each. Creeds, by nature were not written to be sung and therefore lack essential musical elements, which make the singing creeds word-for-word not only impractical, but nearly impossible! However, the aim of this workshop is to explore combining the powerful proclamations of creeds with the soul-stirring unity of song to enrich congregational and personal worship.

Songwriting from the Inside

Miranda Dodson
Graham Kendrick
Glenn Packiam, New Life Church
Greg Scheer

Every week congregations sing songs old and new, but rarely think about where they come from. In this workshop, moderator Greg Scheer talks to three songwriters about their writing process, the contexts for which they write, and the things that inspire and challenge them. Join us as we learn from these seasoned songwriters and gain a deeper appreciation of the songs we sing.

Sticky Liturgies: Worship, Youth Ministry, and the Faith of America's Teenagers

Eric Mathis, Samford University

Research has shown that young people are abandoning the faith and leaving the church by the time they graduate from college. Might worship be part of the problem? This interactive workshop will briefly examine major studies in adolescent spirituality, explore multiple worship paradigms within individual congregations, and encourage reflection on the relationship between liturgical practice and adolescent spirituality

Superando la fatiga homilética

Pablo Jiménez

Quienes predican domingo tras domingo a menudo se cansan—tanto aquellos predicadores experimentados que han estado en el púlpito por mucho tiempo como quienes son nuevos frente a las exigencias de la predicación semana tras semana, se preguntan cómo mantener el ritmo de preparar nuevos sermones que comuniquen la Palabra de Dios con vitalidad. Este taller explorará maneras de revitalizar su predicación.

Telling Stories in Worship: Principles and Practices

Eric Mathis, Samford University

This workshop will focus on telling stories in worship as well as the principles that shape and sustain this important worship leadership practice. While students will provide examples and discuss their own experiences with story-telling, workshop participants will be given the opportunity to practice their story telling skills as well as gather valuable resources for future planning and learning in their communities of faith.

The Art of Collaboration

Linda Witte Henke

This workshop will delve into the opportunities and challenging ingredient in the collaborative creation of liturgical art. Award-winning liturgical artist Linda Witte Henke will use images and narratives from a variety of collaborative projects to invite participants into consideration of guiding principles, group dynamics, and practical considerations for creating liturgical art in collaboration.

The Most Important Word in Preaching

Mike Graves PhD, Saint Paul School of Theology

Since the inception of the New Homiletic in the 1970s, preachers have been experimenting with inductive and narrative forms of preaching, thanks to the likes of Fred Craddock and Eugene Lowry. The idea is for sermons to engage people, create an experience of the biblical text. In recent years, however, some critics have noted a lack of biblical exposition among narrative preachers, and this at a time of biblical and theological illiteracy among congregations. In this interactive workshop we will explore the tension and talk about what may be the most important word in preaching, narrative, or otherwise.

The Multicultural Dance: Its Implications for Christian Worship

Fernando A. Cascante-Gómez

Using the imagery of "dancing" and based on the encounter of Jesus with the Syrophoenician woman as presented in the gospel of Mathew, participants in this workshop will be able to distinguish three steps to follow for relating with people from other cultural/ethnic backgrounds. Together we will discern some conceptual and practical implications of those steps when it comes to planning and implementing worship in a multicultural context.

The Power of Spirituals

Eileen Guenther

Spirituals come out of a particular time and place, a truly painful part of history. Yet that context of pain and suffering gave us "sorrow songs," and also gave us songs of hope and liberation. The music comes directly out of the slaves’ experiences and enabled them to "sing what they could not say." This is music that speaks to and for us today, music of tremendous emotional power, that connects us with the strength of the human spirit and the power of faith of those enslaved, just as it connects us with each other in our common humanity and most of all, with God.

The Sound of Scripture

Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence, Calvin Theological Seminary

We spend hours planning and rehearsing music for worship. But what about scripture? If scripture is a central component of worship, how can we more intentionally and creatively present the text so that it is rehearsed, meaningful, and emotionally compelling? Answering both "why" and "how to," this workshop will provide an array of practical tools and examples to empower participants to put into practice what they have learned. This seminar will be assisted by students from Unity Christian High, who will participate in biblical storytelling, scripture tableaux, and choral readings using a variety of biblical literary genres.

The Treasure of African American Worship Traditions: Insights and Wisdom for Churches in Every Cultural Context

James Abbington, Candler School of Theology
Eileen Guenther
C. Michael Hawn, Perkins School of Theology
William N. Heard
John D. Witvliet, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

This session will explore the depth, riches, wisdom, and insights that have emerged through several centuries of Christian worship among African-American communities in North America —and the way these gifts can bless and strengthen all kinds of churches—both multicultural churches and culturally homogenous churches, both African-American churches and churches of other ethnic and cultural groups, both churches in North America and beyond. The session will highlight themes developed in a wonderful new publication: Readings in African American Church Music and Worship, ed. James Abbington (GIA Publications, Inc.), and suggest practical strategies for further learning in your context.

Transforming Sermon Communication: A Practical Guide to Making Changes That Make a Difference

Lori J. Carrell, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh

Hundreds of preachers changed their preaching preparation habits in ways that made a difference in the spiritual journeys of their 30,000+ listeners. What did they do? How did they do it? What can others, who speak the Word, learn from their experiences? In this workshop, participants will discover practical answers to these questions through the stories of preachers and listeners documented over several years. If you believe that the spoken Word can make a difference for individuals, congregations, communities, and culture, attend this workshop with high expectations.

Until Justice and Peace Embrace: Worship that Announces and Shapes Reconciliation

David M. Bailey, Arrabon
Shannon Jammal-Hollemans
Mwenda Ntarangwi
Kathy Smith
Sandra Maria Van Opstal
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Berkeley College
David Rylaarsdam

Public worship and reconciliation are deeply connected. In worship, we announce the good news of reconciliation in Christ in sermons and songs. But we don’t speak or sing about it. In worship, we also practice habits that are fundamental building blocks of reconciliation: we confess sin, pass the peace to each other, and gather in unity around Christ’s table. At its best, public worship both announces and participates in Christ-shaped reconciliation. Yet this is not easy, especially when congregations are marked by divisions and conflict. What about churches that sing about reconciliation and unity, but seem unwilling or unable to address conflict in healthy ways? What about divisions that keep us separated across ethnic and socio-economic lines? What about centuries-old conflict that seems so much bigger than any congregation can really address?

Water, Wheat, and Honey: A Recipe for Abundant Life

Susan Briehl

In this workshop we will join the surprising journey of a group of emerging adults who volunteered to help fourth graders bake bread for their first Communion. With them we will travel on "paths as yet untrodden through perils unknown" in our common search for a faithful way of life in and for the world.

What North American Churches Can Learn from the Church in Pakistan

Emily R. Brink, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship
Eric Sarwar, Tehillim School of Church Music and Worship

Join this conversation between Eric Sarwar, a Presbyterian pastor from Pakistan, and Emily Brink, Worship Institute staff member, about how Pakistani worship practices can bless and inform the Christian church in North America. Learn more about how Pakistani Christian worship in a largely oral culture in an Islamic context. Several years ago Emily was hosted by Eric in worship conference in Karachi. They are now collaborating on transcribing raga-based psalms and various writing projects while he is studying in North America.

Worship 101: Introduction to Principles and Invitation to Practice

Eric Mathis, Samford University
Paul Ryan, Calvin College

Learning to lead worship takes practice, but where does one begin? In this seminar, we will present five vital worship leadership practices and the principles that shape and sustain them. We will learn about praying publicly, choosing music, speaking introductions and transitions, telling stories, and the planning process that pulls these practices, and more, together. Along the way we will see examples and hear testimonies from students. We will engage in exercises and share together around tables. By the end, participants will have many opportunities to practice skills and gather valuable resources for future planning and learning in their communities of worship.

Worshiping a Christ Who Is Hard to Know

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Calvin Institute of Christian Worship

In the gospels, Jesus seems to answer questions people did not ask. He abruptly switches topics. He unexpectedly falls silent. He exalts babies. He had to heal one man in two stages because he didn’t get it quite right at first. He needs to pray all the time. Frankly put, like his Father, Jesus Christ can be known but he is also hard to know. With this stubborn fact in mind, how shall we worship him?