John Witvliet and associates of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship conducted a three-year program of initiatives aimed at revitalizing Christian worship in Protestant churches across North America. Witvliet and associates proposed that issues regarding worship patterns arose not out of musical concerns but more deeply out of theological and pastoral concerns. Churches across denominations have witnessed major upheavals concerning patterns of worship and liturgies that have led some to rediscover historic practices of Christian worship while others have sought to develop styles labeled “contemporary” or “alternative”.
The researches noted four broad movements within the wider domain of Christian worship. The ecumenical liturgical movement, based on a rediscovery of historical patterns of Christian liturgy and ecumenical encounters, has impacted denominations in a way that has seen Methodists and Presbyterians to sing their Eucharistic prayers, evangelicals to observer Advent and Lent, and Roman Catholics and Episcopalians to nurture congregational participation in liturgical music and psalmody. Growing cultural diversity, in the second instance, has led to a sharing of musical and textual resources concerning worship among various cultural traditions reflected in music published in recent hymnals. Thirdly, the Charismatic movement’s influence on worship patterns across denominations is seen in the praise-and-worship movement that has become an integral part of the liturgy in many churches. There is, fourthly, the movement that considers public worship as a primary vehicle for evangelism and aims at making Christian worship services more accessible to non-Christians.
In light of the aforementioned developments, Witvliet and associates designed a three-year program with three components. The first component consisted of annual scholarly seminars that brought together an interdisciplinary ecumenical team of scholars to reflect and write on a highly focused topic related to Christian worship. The team of scholars met thrice annually and addressed the following three issues, each discussed over a year: (1) Which skills, resources, and ministry strategies will assist congregations in responding to the development of contemporary styles of worship? (2) How should corporate worship function to enhance the mission of Christian institutions of higher education? (3) What approaches or paradigms for worship curricula at Protestant and Catholic seminaries will best prepare leaders for congregational ministry in the twenty-first century?
The second component involved an annual conference on the practice of Christian worship and the Arts which included the Calvin Symposium on Worship and the Arts sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.
The third component involved grant making for scholars, pastors, church musicians, artists, and architects to complete short term projects related to the study and practice of Christian worship. It supported composition of liturgical music, design of liturgical space and artwork, production of music, and development of regional and congregational educational and training events.
The ongoing work of the Institute is featured on its website: http://www.calvin.edu/worship