April 25, 2013 | Phil de Haan

The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship is sponsoring its second-annual Symposium on Worship in Hong Kong.

Yvette Lau's email signature includes the first verse of the song “Surprise Us by the Words We Sing.”

Surprise us by the words we sing,

Dear Christ, and as we praise,

Break through each warm, familiar shell

And use the songs we know so well

To challenge and amaze.

The words are important to Lau, a native of Hong Kong and a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary. They serve not only as an ending to every e-mail she sends but as a description of Lau and the work she feels called to do in Hong Kong. Working with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW), Lau is planning “Psalms: Springs of Worship,” a worship symposium expected to draw 500 people to Hong Kong.

“Yvette is a very gentle, yet very strong person of faith,” said Emily Brink, a senior research fellow for the worship institute. “I first saw that passion and commitment when she was a Calvin Seminary student, and she worked with us as we prepared worship for a huge international event at Calvin. That experience in working together is what gave us full trust to ask her to be our CICW representative on the Hong Kong committee, and we have not been disappointed.”

The Hong Kong symposium on worship, held Thursday through Saturday, April 25–27 at Alliance Bible Seminary in Cheung Chau, will feature three days of plenaries, workshops, worship and more.  It is modeled on the annual Symposium on Worship, hosted at Calvin each January for the past 26 years, on the 2011 Hong Kong symposium—the first, organized by CICW staffer Anne Zaki—and on worship institute events co-sponsored in recent years in El Salvador, Romania, Indonesia, Japan and Mexico.

Distinctive flavors

But the Hong Kong event will also have its own distinctive flavors, Brink said, including the food, the music and the speakers. “In 2011, I was so impressed by the creativity and beauty of the worship services, the well-planned organization and the hospitality,” said Brink, who will also attend this year’s conference. “Another aspect that particularly impressed us was the care and creativity with which scripture was presented in all the worship services.” (It is a Worship Institute policy that half of the speakers at co-sponsored regional events outside the U.S., must be from the host country.)

Three other CICW staff will be traveling to Hong Kong for the event, including Neal Plantinga, a worship institute fellow and president emeritus of Calvin seminary; Paul Ryan, a Calvin associate chaplain and a resource development specialist for the worship institute; and David Rylaarsdam, a professor at Calvin seminary.

Lau is eager to rendezvous with the Calvin contingent. She is also excited by the conference’s theme: a deeper study of the book of Psalms. “The book of Psalms is a very important book for worship,” she said, “and we have new things to try (at this conference), so that’s making us even more excited. I also am eager to see and learn from my four great teachers again,” she said.

Brink will deliver one workshop on the Psalms and a second that will look at songs from Western cultures that are adopted in Asia (and around the world) and songs to consider adopting from around the world.

Plantinga will deliver plenaries on proclamation in the Psalms and on praying for shalom in the Psalms, topics he hoped would be particularly pertinent in an international setting: “The Psalms often speak of shalom, and for the psalmists this includes harmony among the nations. I want attendees to appreciate the Psalms anew and to revel in their beauty. And I hope they will draw insight in how the Psalms may enhance corporate worship.”

Ryan and Rylaarsdam have similar hopes for their talks. Said Rylaarsdam: “I hope that stories from history will inspire those attending the symposium in Hong Kong and everyone will see the psalms as a wonderful gift from God through which His Spirit shapes our hearts and minds.” Added Ryan: “I pray that the attendees are renewed in their work and love for Jesus. I hope that attendees have time to reflect on God’s work in and through them and leave with gratitude and expectation for what God will continue to do.”

Teaching and learning

All four from Calvin also are eager to learn from conference attendees.

“We always learn at least as much as we teach in our international conferences,” Brink noted. “We are only part of the body of Christ, and as the global center of Christianity continues to shift south and east, North Americans have much to learn from our brothers and sister who live in very different contexts.”

Said Plantinga: “I hope to gain cultural insight from our venture and a refreshed vision of the world church. I am very excited, having heard of Hong Kong all my life but never having visited before. I so appreciate the fact that CICW has over the years established contacts all over the world. This is pretty amazing to me.”

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