Conference Theme & Invitation

The conference theme provides a focus for all its components: worship, faculty presentations, and workshops. For the latter, participants are invited to share an example of their congregation’s ministry that relates to or reflects on the theme, or to bring questions or ideas they may be considering.


2017 Conference Theme ~

When Dancing Turns to Mourning: Worshiping God in the face of violence


Every congregation comes face to face with forms of violence that rupture the life of its neighborhood, city, or nation.  Across generations and cultures, the worship, music, and art of the church make public witness to the human pain violence brings and to God’s presence with those who suffer in its wake.  Amid today’s media-driven awareness and widespread fear, how can the worship, music, and art of Christian congregations offer courage to those who are anxious, help to those who are suffering, and long-term formation in ways of peace?  What testimony can hymnody, preaching, and forms of prayer—ancient and new—provide?  Living responses to these questions are emerging in the arts, in theology, and in the concrete practices of congregations.  This conference will gather congregational leaders from a variety of denominations and settings to reflect on these responses, and to consider how they might likewise respond in their own contexts.


An Invitation to Share Your Congregation’s Work

We invite congregation leaders to bring examples of how their own work is related to the theme of the conference and articulated through their ministries in worship and the arts. Such work might include, for example, a response to a specific form of violence, a liturgical emphasis, a program initiative, or a long-term effort in Christian formation.

The work you choose to share need not be polished or fully resolved; you may have something new in mind, or something you are considering as an experiment. We anticipate that congregations will bring questions as well as accomplishments. At the same time, we are eager to learn from well-considered, ongoing ministries. We seek to lift up work that has been generative for the congregations involved and that will be instructive or inspiring to other congregations.

Participants who bring examples will share them and receive feedback in workshop sessions. Those who participate in this way will be asked to provide a brief statement explaining their idea after registering.

Even if your congregation does not want to share in this way–which is perfectly acceptable–it would be helpful for you to ponder in advance how the theme intersects with the life of your community.

To stir your imagination, we have come up with a few questions that may prompt reflection on what your congregation is already doing or help you imagine what you’d like to explore in the future.

  • What are your congregation’s gifts in ministries of social justice and community healing? What are your congregation’s gifts in worship, music, and art? How do you understand the connections between these emphases?  What do you do to enact these connections, and how might you do so more fully?
  • What specific experiences of violence have shaken your congregation? How have preaching, liturgy, music, and art borne witness at these times? What questions remain with you? What do you wrestle with as you face the violence that surrounds and infuses your neighborhood, city, or nation? How do, or how might, worship and the arts sustain, embody, and expand your congregation’s testimony and response? 
  • In some traditions, and for certain congregations from a wide range of traditions, forming communities that resist violence is a core commitment. Is your congregation a peace-making community? Or is yours a congregation that wishes to grow in this dimension of discipleship? If so, how do you understand the contribution of music, worship, and the arts in such communities?
  • In what ways do your congregation’s theology and regular patterns of worship–such as Communion, prayer, hymnody, and the church year–bring you face to face with the violence that has pervaded human history? In what ways do they avoid such encounter?

You can view examples of how congregations have engaged previous years’ themes in their work here.