Worship Conference 2017: Just What Exactly Is Worship Conference?

Do you ever have a conversation with someone where everything they say to you seems like it's a whole other language because you don't get the topic? I experience that a lot when listening to my brothers converse about video games or my sister and sister-in-law talk about their children.

I'm sure a few of you have dealt with that when I've brought up the topic of Worship Conference.

Is it a conference?

About worship?

Is that all people do?

Just a nonstop church service for four days?!

Well, no...and kind of yes. Here's my primer for all of you who want to follow this blog but would like a little more information before reading all my gibberish.

Photos by Fresh Frame: www.freshframephotography.com
The Basics

The official name for this shindig is the WELS Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts. (WELS standing for Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, with which our church in Stevensville is affiliated.) It is a triannual conference that began in 1996. From its official title, not only does the conference cover the different varieties of worship that can be used in church services (which includes preaching, congregational involvement, and variety in liturgy), but also covers topics like music for choral and instrumental groups and all forms of Christian art in the church and non-church setting. 

For the first few years it was held on the Carthage College campus in Kenosha, Wisconsin. It was moved to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota for three years before returning to Carthage in 2014 (and again this year). 

Each day of the conference officially begins and ends with church services. These are presented in a variety of ways; for example, one day last year started with an incredibly traditional, Bach- and Luther-centric service featuring organ, and then ended with a very contemporary service with four bands covering a variety of hymns. If you like variety in worship, this conference is for you!

In between the services are many presentations by pastors, teachers, musicians, artists, and layworkers who give their experiences in worship. Some companies do presentations to promote their merchandise. I attend Northwestern Publishing House's choral readings every conference to get samples of new music and hear them performed. 

The conference gives everyone a chance to find something they enjoy. Children in fourth through eighth grade can participate in a children's chorus, high schoolers and join the Honor Choir, and adults have many different choirs where they can lift their voices in song. Or, if listening is your idea of a great time, concerts are given by accomplished WELS musicians. 

The Worship

At the beginning, the conferences centered around a time of the church year. My first conference was all about the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany season, so yes, I did celebrate Christmas in July. 

This time around, we are focusing on a few of the church year festivals that are important but not always celebrated as much as they deserve: Reformation, Confession, All Saints', Ascension, and Pentecost. (If you're a WELS lifer, you'll notice that All Saints' Day is included instead of the Christian Worship-introduced "Saints Triumphant." From what I've heard, the season of End Times is going the way of the dodo when the new hymnal is introduced.)

Many worship services are one step above the normal worship at a given church on a Sunday morning. There is still the basic framework of worship, but there are added elements. There is special artwork that decorates the chapel. Special choirs sing music that adds to the festival and special instrumentalists accompany them. The organist or pianist is at the top of the class. 

Not only is the presentation of the worship very enhanced, but the singing by the congregation is incredible. Combine the best singers from all over the country and give them a familiar hymn to sing in a space that is meant to bounce sound off all the surfaces. Many people come out of a service saying, "I think that's what heaven's services will feel like." 

The Merchandise

A large section of the campus is devoted to a variety of companies selling their wares. This isn't just choir and organ music, either. Need a new organ? We've got you covered. Looking for paraments? Here's a sample of the colors we have. Need to build an entire church? Here's some examples of our best work. 

Large companies bring in their expertise, but smaller vendors are around, too. Music technology is often represented for those congregations that don't have a musician nearby. Composers that self-publish their work sell them here. And those who are searching for school music are never too far from the latest kids' CD. 

Let me put it this way: I played for a funeral and a wedding last month. I am using all the money I made from those two services and buying things at Worship Conference. I need to set a budget or I will buy everything!

The Presentations

The Wisconsin Synod is flush with experienced talent, but most members of the WELS don't realize it. At Worship Conference, these men and women are highlighted for their expertise. Some of the instrumentalists are professionals who are in symphonies or orchestras. Artists who show their work aren't just doing it as a side project. I am glad that this conference shows people of the WELS these amazingly talented people.

These professionals are chosen to present to the conference about what they know best. Several times I have gone to workshops by choral directors to help me with choir planning and choir rehearsals. Everything I learned was very valuable. Pastors get assistance with service planning. Teachers find music, choral, or band curricula they can use the following year. Laymembers see what other congregations are doing and are inspired to take that kind of thinking back home. 

I always try to diversify what presentations I attend. I go to a few choral director workshops, some teacher workshops, and some choral music samplings. It allows me to take everything I've learned and use it in the following school year. 

The Gem├╝tlichkeit 

One of the best parts of Worship Conference is the fact that many of the participants are staying on campus. People get to hang out with old friends like they never left college. Family members that are usually spread all over the place can unite in one town and catch up. As I mentioned in my last post, people are reunited with acquaintances from all walks of life!

After the final service of the day, some people go home or retire to their living quarters, but a majority just hang out around the campus in groups, talking to each other. In the campus cafeteria, snacks and adult beverages are served and even larger groups form. Friends are introduced to their friend's friends and lively conversations spring up. Someone might bring out a deck of cards or a cribbage board and find a few willing participants to play a game.

This is the perfect opportunity for people to step outside of their comfort zone. I know several people who are not a pastor, teacher, or organist for their church, yet they attend the conference because they love the atmosphere, the worship, and the escape.

Speaking of escape, Worship Conference is one of the best times to disconnect from the rest of the world. Leave your social media behind and communicate with all these nice people! Who knows who you'll bump into as you cross the campus!

Hopefully this answers a few of your questions about the National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts. Stick with me over the next few days to see everything up close!

Read my recap of Day 1 HERE!


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