“Worship is the beating heart of the Christian church,” says Carol Penner, who teaches practical theology at Conrad Grebel University College and the University of Waterloo.
Penner and a team of six volunteers from Mennonite churches across Canada and the United States have spent the last two years creating a website of worship resources with an Anabaptist-Mennonite approach designed to aid leaders in Mennonite congregations. They plan to expand their team to include more faculty and students from Mennonite institutions, as curation continues.
While some denominations have services led by ordained clergy, Penner says that Mennonite worship leaders tend to be volunteers, not all of who are theologically trained. “Having a website that provides resources written by Anabaptists can really help them as they prepare to lead worship,” she says, adding that the Together in Worship website, which is set to launch this fall, aims “to support leaders shaping thoughtful and creative worship through easy-to-access and free online resources.”
It will include lyrics, prayers and visuals that reflect diverse cultures and languages, as well as information for the mentorship of individuals interested in growing their understanding and practice of Mennonite worship.
The platform will also act as a base from which to find and access worship resources that have been developed by Mennonite organizations, and a place for “individuals and communities to create and share resources,” according to Penner, who says that one of the project’s objectives is to “support corporate worship in communities that have diverse worship practices.” While Together in Worship prominently serves a Mennonite audience, its content will be available to leaders in all denominations.
The project has received US$18,000 in funding from the 2019-20 Calvin Institute of Christian Worship Teacher-Scholar Grant. It allowed Penner and her committee to hold a bi-national working meeting and to hire four students for the 2019 summer term to find, curate and input worship resources from a variety of Anabaptist perspectives. One of the students was a master of theological studies (MTS) student at Grebel.
The Bequest Earnings Disbursement Fund of Shantz Mennonite Church, Baden, Ont., also contributed $10,000 to the website, funds that will be used for graphic design and further website development.
This summer, three more MTS students will be curating resources under the supervision of Sarah Johnson, an MTS graduate and worship resources editor for the Voices Together Mennonite hymnal and editor for its accompanying volume for worship leaders.
According to Penner, the COVID-19 pandemic has displayed the importance of online availability for resources in ever-changing circumstances. “Worship is where we come together to find strength and comfort in these hard times,” she says.
When it launches, the website can be found at togetherinworship.net. In the beginning, there will be access to English resources such as prayers and readings, with more content added over time. Penner says the “goal is to include resources written in a variety of languages, as well as music, and visual art.”