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It hit me when the Sankofa student drum group started playing during the Scripture reading. The drummers hadn't blown their cue; they were supposed to be playing during the Scripture reading. The moment came during a chapel service on Isaiah 60, and when they stood up and started thumping away, the reader began: "Arise, shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is upon you. … " The driving, growling beat of their congas seemed to punctuate the imminence of the prophecy; their rhythm was arresting, surprising, and fully fitting. I'd never heard the passage read that way before, and never heard its call that way before. It was like Isaiah was trying to get our attention all over again, all these millennia later.

And that's when it hit me: if Calvinists are pounding congas like this in the middle of a reading, worship has come a long way in this place and this faith tradition. The thought recurred throughout the final day of the seventeenth annual Calvin Symposium on Worship and the Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which the chapel opened. Raised in West Michigan in the Reformed tradition, I'm not conditioned to get goosebumps in church. Worship here has long been reverent, formal, solemn, and—at its worst—bloodless. It used to be that you were no more likely to hear banging congas during the Scripture reading than you would be to see elders riding unicycles around the sanctuary. You wouldn't have picked Dutch Calvinists—we who took until the 20th century to agree that speaking English and singing hymns were allowed in church—to call for an international dialogue on cultivating meaningful and refreshing methods and habits of worship.

Yet this past weekend, Calvin College was indeed the destination of world travelers ...

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February 2004

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