The Institute of Worship is partnering with Manifest to present a creativity in worship stream at next month’s creative arts festival (Avondale College of Higher Education, March 20-22). But what and who is the institute, and for what does it stand?
The answer to the first question: the institute is an initiative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific.
Worship is a redeemed community responding to its Redeemer.
The answer to the second question: the institute is led by director Dr Lyell Heise and assistants Valmai Hill and Marian Moroney.
I asked the three about their work, the Play Today resources they have created and their partnership with Manifest.
What’s your working definition of “worship”?
The definition Lyell uses in worship conference seminars is, “Worship is a redeemed community responding to its Redeemer.” This highlights four areas for reflection and consideration. Redeemed means we’re children of grace, not struggling performers at a worship event. Community should be self-explanatory but can never be taken for granted. Responding connotes action and participation. Redeemer locates it all firmly in the person and appeal of Jesus.
These days, when people hear “worship”, they often think of music. Is there a risk of having a too narrow view of worship?
Yes. We’re all musicians, and we love traditional and contemporary expressions of music, but it’s only part of the fabric of worship. For example, the silence and stillness of thoughtful reflection is far too neglected by worship leaders, and the artistic contributions of the performing and visual arts are in danger of being largely ignored by the more commercial music interests that often dominate contemporary worship.
How do you assess the contribution of the institute to the life of the church in our part of the world?
Others will be better placed to answer this, but our ministry colleagues assure us they’ve seen a substantial expansion and development in the capacity of congregations to think and act more broadly in their cultural and theological expressions of worship. We believe worship leaders, artists and musicians feel more affirmed in their craft as a result of our endeavours. We’ve also held worship conferences in every major region of the church in the South Pacific, and in many smaller regions, too.
Where did the idea of Play Today come from?
We were reflecting on a range of issues in instrumental worship, and we noted how some older musicians were becoming confused by the seeming complexities of much contemporary music. We thought all musicians would value a resource that made contemporary worship music more accessible. We also noticed how young piano students loved playing worship music. We thought a resource that included easy and intermediate arrangements could see many more younger musicians involved in worship.
What has surprised you most about the way these resources have been used?
We didn’t have enough faith in the product initially and have reprinted the first book three times. We were surprised the demand led us to producing five books and backing CDs, totalling 30,000 units. This wide distribution of the resources has amazed us. We have had expressions of thanks from people in many Christian denominations, from music teachers all around Australia and from worship leaders in the South Pacific and beyond.
You’re partnering with Manifest this year. How important is creativity in worship?
Creativity is important because it caters to the diversity of human experience. It reflects an important quality of the Godhead. Any criticism of creativity calls into question the most profound quality of divinity—the power to create, the power to astonish with beauty, the power to invest simple symbols with the most sublime expressions of truth.
What is the most important ingredient to worshipping better?
Understanding grace better.
Nathan Brown is book editor at Signs Publishing in Warburton, Victoria, Australia and co-convenor of the Manifest Creative Arts Festival.