Coming Together with the Art of Worship in DC

In my community group, we are interspersing discussions of spiritual disciplines with our Bible study on Exodus. One member, who led our discussion of worship as a discipline, is a Calvin College alumna. About a month ago, she alerted us to a workshop that Calvin’s “Worship Apprentices” were putting on during their spring break. The worship workshop just so happened to be at Washington Community Fellowship, my fiancée’s and my morning church, so the two of us and our Calvin friend, took out a weeknight to see what we could see.

The Worship Apprentices are a team of ten students at Calvin who plan and lead worship services for the school, study the theology of worship, dedicate themselves to practice it, and teach others about it. They begin the school year with a two-week intensive training and work all year, with heavy involvement in the well-known Calvin Worship Symposium (where every participant proves that they love God through their willingness to travel to Grand Rapids, MI in January). During spring break, the apprentices split up and teach students and churches on each coast about worship. The East Coast team, of whose excellent work we were the beneficiaries consisted of Sam, Tricia, Henry, and Robin, and was led by their chapel coordinator Cindy de Jong. According to our friend, chapel services at Calvin are a real blessing and the worship apprentices do a lot of good work. Based on my limited exposure, I believe it.

The WCF meeting brought together the body of Christ, with participants from WCF as well as Reformation Lutheran Church, Alexandria Presbyterian, Silver Spring Christian Reformed, 3 Strands Community Church (that’s us!), and Christ our Shepherd (including the gang from Care Company). According to the Worship Apprentices’ blog, we were an unruly collection saints, but we were also “wonderfully pleasant” – thanks, guys!

Having allowed a month to elapse before posting, I won’t do proper justice to the session, but suffice it to say that there is ample reason to worship the Lord our God, and many ways to do it. The content was geared towards worship leaders, which to my congregation’s great relief, I am not, but the rest of us learned a lot as well. The theological pillars of our lesson were the simple but important assertion that a relationship with God needs nourishing and an emphasis on worship as a communal experience of the church.

Communal worship helps to nourish our relationship with God through communication. Much like individual prayer, corporate worship can contain adoration, confession, lament, listening, petition and gratitude. It also benefits from confession of faith via creeds or scriptural confessions, replication of certain things we see in God, benediction, peace-passing, healing prayers, and other elements. Doing these things well, which worship leaders seek to teach us to do, develops what the Calvin team called good “vertical language habits.” We are formed by worship even as we go in and participate in it. The more we worship God, and the more broadly we do it, the more natural it will be, and the greater control God can exercise over us.

I particularly liked one exercise in vertical language habits. You can try this at home:

Look at Psalm 19.1-2:
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.”

Now, what are some of the themes you see? God’s creativity? His constancy? There are plenty to choose from. Think of a couple more…

Next, using those themes, write a sentence or two to make a transition from this passage to a public time of confession.

For example, I highlighted God’s glory and said, “Now that we know God’s infinite glory, we can more fully see our own weakness, pettiness, and sin. Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.” Now you try!

In addition to good verbal communication habits, the Apprentices tried to teach us other means of communication with God, emphasizing the fact that the whole community has the resources to worship the Lord. They discussed using pre-made art and art created during the worship service. They mentioned dance, and talked a lot about music. The important thing is that every member of a congregation be able to participate, because participation in worship is communication with God.

Finally, we sang several worship songs. I particularly liked two new ones, The First Place by Matthew Westerholm, and Gbemi Jesu (Lift me, Jesus in Yoruba).

I thank God for the visitors from Calvin, and for the chance to share in their lessons with part of the larger body of Christ. May we in this city now listen more closely to the Lord, and declare His name more clearly through worship.

Check out the Calvin worship apprentices’ blog as well as the archive of Calvin’s chapel services.