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Columbia Seminary professor awarded Vital Worship Grant

Dr. Rebecca Spurrier to further explore ‘the hope of human interdependence’

 by Columbia Theological Seminary | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Dr. Rebecca Spurrier

DECATUR, Georgia — The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) announced that it will fund 15 grants to teacher-scholars for 2020-2021 as part of its Vital Worship Grants program.

Among them is Columbia Theological Seminary’s Dr. Rebecca Spurrier, Associate Dean for Worship Life and Assistant Professor of Worship. Her project will be, “To create a liturgical resource that responds to ableist images, narratives, and symbols that are common in Christian worship, drawing from insights in liturgical studies and disability studies.”

In a news release from the seminary, Spurrier said she is interested in theologies and practices of public worship that reflect the beauty and tension that human differences bring to Christian liturgy. Engaging ethnographic theology, disability studies, and liturgical aesthetics, her research explores the hope of human interdependence and the importance of liturgical access for ecclesial practice and Christian community. She integrates a focus on liturgical and practical theology in the classroom with the formation of worship leaders through daily chapel services.

About the Vital Worship Grants program

This stream of the Vital Worship Grants program recognizes that teacher-scholars in many disciplines have a unique role to play in strengthening and nurturing the life of Christian worshiping communities. CICW is excited to build upon the success of last year’s inaugural teacher-scholar grants with this strong pool of teacher-scholars who will engage disciplines traditionally associated with worship such as theology and music, but also from psychology, performance studies, education and anthropology.

These projects have a variety of emphases — youth, preaching, worship across the spectrum of ability and disability, music and human flourishing, communication systems used in preaching, baptismal practices impacted by toxic water and more. As a common purpose they all have a desire to both deepen people’s understanding of worship and strengthen practices of public worship and faith formation.

Kathy Smith, leader of the Vital Worship Grants team, said, “We are delighted to join with these distinguished scholars to explore the ways that scholarship in different fields can contribute to the deepening of worship practices in congregations. We were grateful for a number of excellent proposals and are eager to facilitate their learning and ours, regarding worship across North America.”

This year’s recipients include scholars at five research universities, seven seminaries and two regional Christian colleges, representing 10 states.

Each grant (ranging from $10,500 to $18,000) will fund a research project beginning in 2020 that shows promise to serve worshiping communities by strengthening Christian public worship practices.

This is the second round of the teacher-scholar stream of the Vital Worship Grants program, which has been awarding grants to worshiping communities since 2000. This new stream of grant-making seeks to foster vital worship by supporting teacher-scholars in any field as they do integrated research that connects worship with other disciplines of study and practice. The goal is to advance the flourishing of Christian public worship practices in worshiping communities.

“Teacher-scholars from a wide variety of disciplines have so much to contribute to congregations and parishes — helping us all see things we otherwise might miss, offering access to essential wisdom for ministry. We are grateful for each of these teacher-scholars and the promise of their work for strengthening congregational life,” said John Witvliet, director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Since it began in the year 2000, the Vital Worship Grants Program has awarded 892 grants to churches, schools and organizations across North America for projects that generate thoughtfulness and energy for public worship and faith formation at the local, grassroots level. An advisory board of pastors and teachers from a variety of backgrounds assists in the grant selections, and the program is supported by Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. Founded in 1937, the Endowment’s major areas of programming are religion, education and community development.

For more information on the grants program, including a complete list of this year’s grants recipients, see

About Columbia Theological Seminary

Columbia Theological Seminary seeks “to educate and nurture faithful, imaginative, and effective leaders for the sake of the church and the world.” As an educational institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Columbia Seminary is a community of theological inquiry, leadership development, and formation for ministry in the service of the Church of Jesus Christ. Columbia Seminary offers six graduate degree programs and dozens of courses and events as a resource for church professionals and lay people through The Center for Lifelong Learning. For more information, visit


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