Welcoming Worship

Heading into the Symposium on Worship at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was filled with both emotions of excitement and uncertainty as I was stepping into a completely new and unfamiliar world. I had never studied worship or theology, been to a symposium, or Calvin or even the state of Michigan. Would I feel welcomed or would I feel out of place? After all, I would be staying, eating and conversing with many people I had never met before.

The Symposium on Worship packs three days full of worship and seminars about worship, combined with our days of travel getting there and back. After arriving around 10 pm the night before, the symposium began at 8:30 on Thursday morning (which felt like 5:30 in the morning to us!) and continued until 5 pm on Saturday. Each day included multiple worship services and seminars; even the time in between services and seminars were known as “conversation breaks,” time in which you’d spend talking to other symposium attendees. I have heard the term “like drinking water from a firehose” used three times since to describe what the experience of attending the Symposium on Worship is like, which seems to be pretty accurate. By the end of it all, I will fully admit I was exhausted! After coming home it has taken a little bit of time to reflect on everything that I have experienced and what I have taken out of it.

When I’ve reflected on my time in Grand Rapids and what I learned, the word “hospitality” has repeatedly come to mind. I felt welcomed by so many people during my time in Grand Rapids, from both locals and other symposium attendees. Even if they knew Natasha, I was a stranger and they invited me in to their homes, their tables and conversations. By the end, I was no longer a stranger. Even a 6 hour flight delay, a missed connection and an extra night on the way home was made much more enjoyable by the fellowship and conversation shared by us and three others travelling back to BC from the Symposium.

The theme of hospitality was also reflected in what I learned and experienced in the worship and seminars at the symposium. The theme of the Symposium on Worship this year was “1 Peter: Living in Hope and Grace.” I believe a big part of living in hope and grace requires us offering it to others. After the symposium, I read through 1 Peter and this verse (1 Peter 4:8-10) stood out to me.  

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:8-10 (NIV)

Although this verse was not particularly emphasized in any of the services I attended, it demonstrates what we should offering as a church – love, hospitality and using our unique gifts to best serve God. Our worship and our churches need to be hospitable. In a world where so many people are longing for a connection, a relationship and for a community, our churches need to open our doors, and hearts, and welcome people of all backgrounds and ages. This requires us to sincerely and graciously offer an accessible community and to grow together with each other and our neighbours.

This can take on many different applications and will require us getting to know each other’s stories and needs. While it may seem that accommodating one or a few people may require a lot of work, it results in a better church community for everyone. Being hospitable doesn’t always require a big change however. A simple way this was done throughout the symposium was by using the phrase “please rise in body or spirit” to be more inclusive of those who cannot physically rise. Other ways that we can be more hospitable is by intentionally using language or explanations of elements of our service that newcomers to Christianity may not fully understand. It shouldn’t always be assumed that we “all” know a biblical story, or why we say the Apostle’s Creed or share in the Lord’s Supper. A slight difference in phrasing or actions can make a large difference and benefit many in our churches and communities.

I imagine my experience at the Symposium and in Grand Rapids would be much different if I hadn’t felt welcomed there. I hope we can offer the same welcome and hospitality to our neighbours and newcomers within our community.