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Worship and arts symposium built around congregational singing

November 1st, 2022

Voices Together hymnal

The Worship and the Arts Symposium, with the theme "Joining Voices Together," will take place Saturday, Nov. 12, on campus, and is for anyone who loves to sing in church.

The biennial symposium was delayed one year by the pandemic. Daytime activities are by registration but the conclusion, a Community Evensong at 7 p.m. in Memorial Hall, is open to everyone.

Online registration is at https://www.bethelks.edu/worship-arts-registration-2022 (or call 316-284-5250). The fee per individual is $35 (which includes lunch and supper in the Bethel cafeteria) but that drops to $20 when three or more members of the same congregation register together.

The symposium’s centerpiece is the new hymnal, Voices Together, that Mennonite Church USA (with which Bethel is affiliated) released in 2020, but it should be of interest to anyone for whom congregational singing is a vital part of the Christian worship experience.

“This is a glorious hymnal,” said Henry Waters, Bethel’s new director of choral music and a member of the symposium planning committee, who is also director of music at Plymouth Congregational Church in Wichita, where Voices Together is one of the hymnals used.

“They pulled from so many styles, sounds, backgrounds, authors and composers. It’s really spectacular.”

The resource people for the symposium include six members of the Mennonite Worship and Hymn Committee, charged with planning, shaping and producing the hymnal, including Bradley Kauffman, Goshen, Ind., project director and general editor (who previously directed choirs at Hesston College).

Others are Katie Graber, Columbus, Ohio; SaeJin Lee, Chicago; Cynthia Neufeld Smith, Topeka, Kan.; Adam Tice, Goshen; and Isaac Villegas, Chapel Hill, N.C. Rachel Epp Buller, professor of visual art and design at Bethel College, will also be a resource for the symposium.

Participants can attend plenary gatherings and choose break-out sessions on such topics as putting together a hymnal for the 21st century; intercultural worship; language in hymns and how it shapes and affects worship; practical advice for keyboardists and accompanists using Voices Together; and the contribution of visual art to singing and worship, among others.

The latter is the particular focus of the Community Evensong at 7 p.m., open to anyone whether attending the rest of the symposium or not.

Attenders are encouraged to bring their own copies of Voices Together, but there will be hymnals to borrow or to buy at the service.

Renee Reimer, a former Mennonite pastor who is now an instructor of Bible and religion at Bethel and was on the symposium planning committee, said, “One of the things I love about Voices Together is that it incorporates visual opportunities for worship in the midst of song.

“I think churches need to do more of this, and the symposium offers us opportunities to learn more about how.”

The Evensong program is built around the 12 artworks found within Voices Together, and the worship visuals will include banner-size images of the artworks in the hymnal.

Planner Renae Schmidt Peters, who teaches music at Bethel, added, “An ‘Evensong’ is a service of singing, readings and prayers held at the end of the day.

“Hymns and Scripture readings [for this service] have been intentionally paired with each work of visual art.”

“I am excited to sing … amidst the worshipful artwork,” said Reimer. “My hope is not only to feel the spirit in song with others, but also to be able to see the spirit come to life among us.”

“This is a unique opportunity for singing music chosen by the people leading the Evensong,” added Waters. “These are the people who chose music for a reason and a purpose, and you get to experience singing with [those] who did that. It’s a really amazing opportunity.”

Heidi Regier Kreider, conference minister for Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA, said she is very much looking forward to joining members of the wider church and community to experience “singing, visual arts and learning about the rich resources found in the Voices Together hymnal.

“In a world fragmented by the pandemic and politics, the symposium is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with others,” she continued, “to celebrate the diverse perspectives we bring to worship, highlight the gifts we share in common, and go forth with renewed sense of hope and purpose.”

“The Voices Together hymnal is clearly the result of great care, collaborative effort and intentionality,” Peters said. “Many of the hymns have been written within the last 20 years.

“I look forward to learning new music and experiencing ways in which this rich resource can expand the language of faith and cultivate communities of worship.”

The Worship and the Arts Symposium at Bethel College is made possible by the Reimer-Boese Worship and the Arts Endowment, which celebrates the lives of Katharina Voth Reimer and Thomas U. Reimer, and Maria Schroeder Boese and Abraham L. Boese. The former are the parents, the latter the birth parents of donor Dr. Rosella Reimer Duerksen, whose birth parents died in her infancy.

The endowment is intended to assist Bethel College in providing lectures, musical events, workshops or conferences which focus on the arts as tools for the communication of the faith. It is anticipated that, while some events may primarily serve the student body of the college, others will serve the broader community as well.

Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for academic excellence, Bethel ranks at #14 in the Washington Monthly list of “Best Bachelor’s Colleges,” and #24 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of “Best Regional Colleges Midwest,” both for 2022-23. Bethel is the only Kansas college or university to be named a Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) Campus Center. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu

About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.