The first tweets about this year’s Symposium on Worship, using the #wsymp15 hashtag, started showing up already in early December 2014 and got more frequent as the event dates grew closer.
The symposium opened today, Jan. 29, and runs through Saturday, Jan. 31.
For Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and Center for Excellence in Preaching staff, the folks planning the annual event, such excitement has been contagious.
That’s because organizers say while the amount of work needed to coordinate a symposium that brings some 1,300 people from around the globe to Grand Rapids is immense, the joy, energy and excitement of the conference makes it all worthwhile. And seeing that enthusiasm begin to percolate on social media months before the event even arrives is heartening.
Kristen Verhulst, program manager for the symposium, said: “Each year we are thankful for the opportunity to host attendees, and our prayer each year is that our time together may be rich with prayer and worship, learning and fellowship.”
For 2015, attendees include pastors, artists, musicians, teachers, youth leaders, church educators, congregational elders and board members, justice advocates, missionaries, professors and many more. The goal is to make that multifaceted group of attendees see the many ways in which worship creates ripples that impact life well beyond the sanctuary, said Verhulst.
John Witvliet, director of the Worship Institute, added: “As we worship and learn together, one of our prayers is that we will become increasingly aware of the connections between vital and faithful worship and every other aspect of vital Christian living. Worship connects with every ministry of the church. Beyond the church, worship forms believers for engagement in every area of culture and society. This has implications for many aspects of worship."
Such implications are at the heart of an event that in 2015 sees attendees representing a multitude of ages, races, geographic locales, denominations and worship styles and traditions, a significant change from the first event in 1988 that brought 30-40 people to campus for a half-day conference.
Students from high schools, colleges, universities and seminaries have been a growing group of annual attendees and in 2015 their ranks stretch from A (Alliance Bible Seminary, Alma College, Ambrose University, Arts in Mission, Asbury Theological Seminary and Azusa Pacific University) to Y (Yale Institute of Sacred Music).
Meanwhile, the 30 countries represented at symposium go from A (Argentina) to U (Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom).
All attendees have access while on Calvin’s campus to a busy schedule of events, a plethora of plenary addresses, seminars, workshops and, of course, worship.
Each day of symposium begins and ends with worship (with all worship and vespers services also free and open to the public) and the theme for 2015 is the new covenant reconciliation, taken from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians.
Said Scott Hoezee, director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching: “When Paul addressed his beloved Corinthians in what we call 2 Corinthians, he took care to lay out what it means to be people of a New Covenant in Christ and that a major part of that New Covenant is the need to be reconciled to one another across all of our differences and all of our ‘jars of clay’ frailties.
“Only through reconciliation in and through Christ can we become God’s new people, ambassadors of God’s grace to a hurting world as we spread the sweet aroma of love and unity to and among all people.”
Plenary addresses include “Public Worship and the Many Layers of Gospel-Shaped Reconciliation” and “Church History as an Indispensable Source of Wisdom for Contemporary Ministry,” while seminars and workshops will take on such topics as: "Worship that Announces and Shapes Reconciliation," "The Treasure of African American Worship Traditions," and "Worship, Youth Ministry, and the Faith of America's Teenagers," to name just a few.
In addition, art plays a significant role in the annual event, including this year an exhibition called “Between the Shadow and the Light: A Traveling Exhibition Out of South Africa” in the college’s Center Art Gallery, an exhibition born of a June 2013 trip to South Africa that brought together a team of 10 North American and 10 Southern African artists to engage issues of remembrance, resistance, reconciliation, representation and revisioning.