January 11, 2012 | Phil de Haan

Calvin's marquee worship event has grown from a tiny gathering to a multinational, multi-generational, three-day celebration.

The 2012 Symposium on Worship at Calvin will be the 25th such gathering on campus, since the event began in 1988 as the Symposium on Worship and Church Music. That initial symposium attracted some 30-40 attendees, mostly pastors and worship leaders from the U.S., for a half-day event.

This year's edition will likely bring 1,500-1,600 people to Grand Rapids, about half of whom will be attending Symposium for the first time. That number includes more than 100 attendees who will come from outside the U.S., representing 30-plus countries around the world—an A-Z list that goes from Angola to Zambia with such countries as Canada, India, Korea, Scotland and Uganda in between. In 2012, for the first time ever, Symposium will have a bi-lingual Spanish/English seminar. It also will feature seminar leaders from such countries as Cuba, El Salvador and Guatemala.

And in addition to a broader geographic and cultural reach, the event is also drawing from a wider age range of participants than it did in previous years. This year's Symposium will bring to campus more than 200 college and high school students who will come from across North America.

"Our prayer is that we can work together and build bridges in many directions at the same time, welcoming people from many generations to worship together,” said John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to learn as we gather as high school students, college-age students, seminary students, people of all ages in a variety of congregational settings.”

Symposium now stretches over three full days with more than 100 seminars, workshops and interactive sessions. Along with the worship services that begin and end each day, Symposium will feature many smaller services, including vespers. All told, the planning team and service leaders have planned 12 worship services over a three-day period for the 1,500 people who plan to attend.

But while Symposium has changed a lot since its humble beginnings, the event's mission has remained unchanged: "To bring together a wide range of pastors, worship leaders and planners, artists, musicians, scholars, students, and other interested worshipers, seeking to deepen and integrate all aspects of worship, develop our gifts, encourage each other, and renew our commitment to the full ministry of the church."

The theme for the 2012 Symposium on Worship is "The Psalms: When Life is Prayer." Symposium organizers, inlcuding staff of the Center for Excellence in Preaching, chose Psalm 117 as their word of welcome, calling it "the shortest psalm in the Bible with the widest possible invitation”:

Praise the LORD, all you nations!
Extol him, all your peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD!

Symposium program director Emily Brink, who attended some of the very first events a quarter-century ago reflected on how the event has evolved:

"It's encouraging that Symposium has grown mostly through word of mouth," she said. "It also is great to see that people now come in groups from congregations, so that they can share the learning among themselves on the way back and then with their churches."

The CICW also co-sponsors symposia in Asia and South America and is planning one in Africa.

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