by Adventist Today News Team
The tenth yearly Adventist Worship and Music Conference was held March 7-9 at Andrews University (AU) and a reporter from Adventist Today observed and participated. Speakers included Dr. Pedrito Maynard-Reid, assistant to the president at Walla Walla University; Dr. Hyveth Williams, homiletics professor at the AU seminary; and Dr. Sigve Tonstad, theologian and medical school professor at Loma Linda University. Nicholas Zork, worship leader, composer, recording artist, and songwriter, coordinated the conference. Tanya Riches, well-known Australian worship leader, singer, and songwriter, helped lead worship at the event, as did the a cappella singing group Committed, season two champions of NBC television’s hit show, The Sing Off.
Twenty workshops on wide-ranging topics were included, though many were on some aspect of worship music. These included several about inclusiveness and diversity, including different styles, different languages, and “giving voice to the voiceless” by drawing in those who have been marginalized in the wider society and in our churches as well. Two of the workshops were in Spanish. One was about audio technology. Organ and choir music was included. And some were meant to encourage worship experiences that were biblically grounded and led to true, daily revival, not just “good feelings” while at church.
The Center for Youth Evangelism sponsored the event. Most general sessions and workshops were held in Seminary Hall, with some in the Howard Performing Arts Center, both on the Andrews campus. A total of 167 people participated, including graduate students, pastors and worship leaders from churches across North America and overseas. The make-up of the attendees was quite diverse. There seemed to be approximately an even number of men and women, no great majority of any one ethnicity, and conversations could be heard in several languages. The age of the group tended to be heavy at both ends—mostly young, with some older, perhaps retirees, and not as many in between.
Enthusiasm visibly ran high during the conference. The workshops generated animated and friendly discussion, and between sessions, attendees carried on earnest conversations about the highs and lows of the places where they serve, often as youth workers or worship leaders.
The evening sessions, besides presenting teaching about worship, presented opportunities to worship. Thursday evening, the first day of the conference, worship was led by a fascinating combination of organ, a praise team with guitarist, and a string quartet. The music was a combination of hymns and more contemporary praise music, and the musicians had practiced bridges that segued from one song to the next. The words were on song sheets handed out in the pews. Most people present raised hands, clapped, shouted “amen” and “alleluia,” and otherwise participated.
Friday night was the highlight of the conference for many. It was announced as a “Worship Concert: An evening of worship and music with the a cappella group Commited, Andrews University Singers, conducted by Stephen Zork; Deliverance; Tanya Riches; and other Conference presenters,” and was held at the Howard Performing Arts Center. The event required tickets, which were free, so that the room would not exceed capacity. Around 840 people packed the hall and joined in a deeply moving and emotionally charged experience. One young man was overheard to say afterward, “That was no concert—that was a worship experience!” A young woman echoed the thoughts of many when she said, “I was blown away!” One of the most emotional portions of the service was a powerfully rendered musical drama of Jesus’ death and resurrection, from the point of view of angels. This was written by local talent and performed by the Deliverance Massed Choir.
The event was, naturally, an example of what a large facility with high-tech equipment, experienced leaders, talented musicians, and practice, can offer. However, the depth of emotional response to God and His grace can be emulated by any smaller church or group.