In this column, I want to explore the great-granddaddy of worship websites, the expanding-by-the-day website of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (www.calvin.edu/worship). This site reflects the wisdom of a whole congregation of worship gurus, clustered around the vision of CICW and its director, John Witvliet. That vision encompasses both rigorous, high-level scholarship and wheels-on-the-pavement ministry practice.
The Big Picture
Once a labyrinthian nightmare, the site recently received an organizational makeover. Now its vast storehouse of treasures is deceptively easy to navigate and plunder. The permanent left-hand link “Serving You” is a remarkably hospitable orientation to the entire site. It points you to the site’s riches not according to type of treasure (events, resources, grants) but according to type of treasure-seeker (worshiper, student, musician, pastor/planner, scholar). So if you can identify yourself as only one of these categories, here is a good place to start. Or you can simply sign up for the monthly “highlighter,” which e-mails you highlights of the month’s best new offerings (www.calvin.edu/worship/web_highlighter).
CICW may be best known as the sponsoring organization of the annual Symposium on Worship and the Arts. Each year, more than 1,500 people from all across the United Sates and the world gather in Grand Rapids to learn from each other. You can read all about upcoming and past symposia on these pages. In addition to lists of presenters, programs, and schedules, you’ll find pages full of thoughtful questions that help folks prepare for the conference and help them follow up afterward in order to make the most of their experience. For instance, the site suggests that musicians attend a session on preaching and preachers attend a session on music to foster increased understanding and better communication between these two groups that sometimes feel underappreciated by the other. Many other CICW-sponsored events are publicized on these pages too: conferences, seminars, workshops, continuing education events, and academic courses (not all held in Grand Rapids, by the way), sure to whet your appetite for gathered learning.
If you can’t attend one of these gatherings (or you can’t wait till the next chance to do so), materials from many events are available in the section labeled “Resources.” Here are practical and stimulating articles and handouts from symposium sessions, a really well-done “blog” (a chronological publication of thoughts and Web links), helps for those doing liturgical arts of all sorts, and a fascinating series of feature articles on worship-related topics (“Voicing the Psalms,” “Using Drums,” “Sabbath Rest,” “Visual Arts”). There is also a section on Christian worship around the globe that includes multilingual resources and intriguing photo galleries with thought-provoking questions. Especially helpful is the resource section on leadership, which includes Bible studies for worship teams, worship planning grids, and more. Perhaps best of all is a complete worship service plan posted every week, with past services archived by topic.
CICW also sponsors a whole host of publishing projects you can learn about on these pages. These range from scholarly works on the history, theology, and practice of worship (Discerning the Spirits by Neal Plantinga and Sue Rozeboom or Gather into One by Michael Hawn) to practical resources for congregational leaders (Sing! A New Creation and The Worship Sourcebook.)
CICW disseminates treasure through its website—in the form of wisdom but also in the form of money. Thanks to the generous support of the Lilly Endowment, CICW sponsors two major grant programs, one for worship renewal in congregations and one for peer learning programs. Dozens of grants are awarded each year, and by looking at the list of this year’s recipients (see also p. 47), or reading a detailed story of what a past congregation did with its grant, you may be inspired to imagine what might be done to revitalize worship in your own congregation.
Maybe the best thing about the grant program is how it uses seed money to uncover and generate practical wisdom in local congregations. That wisdom is then funneled back into the Institute and offered to the wider church in the shape of events, resources, and, yes, Web pages. So the CICW site draws out wisdom as well as dispenses it, like the guru who responds to a question with more questions, until the inquisitive pilgrim leaves better able to continue the search on her own.