Campus conference highlights worship diversity

By Joe Isenhower Jr.

A first-time three-day conference in mid-February for worship leaders from the Synod’s colleges, universities, and campus-worship.gifseminaries to “openly discuss divergent worship practices” on their campuses was “a practical unveiling about the extreme diversity in music repertoire, artistic expression, and liturgical heritage that shape the worshiping communities within the LCMS [resulting in] a fervent appreciation for the level of excellence in worship and pastoral care for our students in each of these institutions.”

Rev. David A. Johnson, executive director of the Synod’s Commission on Worship, gave Reporter that assessment of the Feb. 15-17 conference at Concordia University, Irvine, Calif.  The conference title was “Word and Sacrament Ministry in This and the Next Generation: Worship Leaders’ Conference Exploring Worship Diversity in a Campus Culture.”

The agenda included several major presentations on worship-related topics, followed by a “table talk” for each topic; 30-minute “worship portraits,” with representatives of the schools highlighting worship activity on their campuses; and three of Concordia, Irvine’s, chapel services and its Sunday-night Communion service.

The Commission on Worship also participated in the conference, along with representatives from several other Synod-related entities.

Major presentations addressed “Freedom in Christ,” “Practicing Those Middle Things [adiaphora],” “The Emerging Church Model,” “Understanding the Millennial Generation,” “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi (what we pray is what we believe),” “Worship – Mission – Context,” and “The World of Technology.

Johnson said that both during the conference and later at a meeting of the Commission on Worship on the Irvine campus, commission members “expressed a unified exuberance for the level of honesty and integrity among worship-conference participants.”

“This conference has ignited in us a desire to further the conversations among the seminaries, colleges, universities, and churches,” Johnson said.

The commission is “seeking to understand and intentionally support the contextual (worship) practices” of each community, conveyed in pastoral and musical care,” Johnson said.

“It is clearly not the intention to diminish our Lutheran heritage,” he explained, “but to allow for the expansion of worship repertoire that faithfully undergirds the proclamation of Word and Sacrament ministry.”

Johnson said that, toward that goal, the commission “will be considering processes to develop liturgies for contemporary instrumental ensembles, and new songs that sing about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”

“From this event, we hope others will intentionally engage in conversation, seeking to understand and not divide,” Johnson said.

He added that the LCMS Commission on Worship is currently working on a “paradigm” for a composers conference — tentatively set for 2010 — “to engage young artists from the Millennial Generation to craft and record Lutheran song that is filled with language about Christ.”

The campus worship leaders conference at Irvine was made possible through funding from a Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation grant.

Sharing ideas, resources

In the application for that grant, Johnson pointed out that an LCMS Commission on Worship member visited each Concordia college and university in the 2004-07 triennium, leading to the decision to hold the conference, based on “a significant finding [of] … felt need on the part of campus worship leaders to be able to share ideas and resources with one another as part of a shared event, as well as an opportunity to support one another in the work of ministering to the diverse student bodies of our Concordias. The need for interfacing with worship staff at the seminaries also was expressed.”  

At its conclusion, the 30-some conference attendees gave the conference high marks in a written survey.  Several also expressed to Reporter their appreciation for the event.

“This was really the best chance I’ve had to hear and consider the big variety of situations we have at our Concordias as we plan and lead worship,” Rev. Steven Smith, campus pastor and assistant professor of theology at Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, wrote via e-mail.

Dr. Kent Burreson, acting dean of chapel and associate professor of systematic theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, stated that the conference “provided an unparalleled opportunity to intersect worship life and formation on the LCMS university campuses with worship life and formation on the seminary campus.  The result: increased understanding and appreciation for the rich and diverse worship that pulses on the campuses of higher education in our church body.”

For Dr. Jean Boehler, a director of parish music and an adjunct professor at Concordia College, Bronxville, N.Y., who also is on the faculty of Concordia Conservatory, the conference “enabled us to look to the future as we discussed the needs of the millennial generation and how we might minister to them in our unique settings.”

“It was a joy to mix with other college chaplains and worship leaders, and of course, to hear their points of view and for them to hear ours,” said Dr. McNair Ramsey, interim president of Concordia College, Selma, Ala. Ramsey presented the school’s worship portrait with  Rev. Steven Washington, who assists with chaplaincy duties at the college and is its athletic director.  Washington is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Selma. 

The Selma college — with a predominantly African-American student body, faculty, and staff — is in the process of seeking a full-time campus chaplain.

Campus diversity

In a recap by phone of their “worship portrait,” Ramsey said that worship on the Selma campus is diverse in style — using different campus choirs and speakers, including area Lutheran pastors and members of the college’s board of regents — to appeal to a diverse student body.”

“They come from all over the United States,” Ramsey said of the school’s students. In addition, he said, there are a significant number of international students, and about three-fourths of the student body is not Lutheran.

“In chapel, we get to share what we believe as we touch on what we have as Lutherans — a clear understanding of sin and grace; that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ,” Ramsey said.

Jon Jordening, director of Contemporary Worship Arts at Concordia University, Irvine, explained via e-mail that for a number of years, chapel worship at Concordia, I

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