March 2021 News Perspective Online

Brazilian Worship

In a typical year, Dr. Marcell Silva Steuernagel travels to Grand Rapids, Mich., in January to participate in the annual Calvin Symposium on Worship. This year, his role was a bit different: bringing Brazil to the symposium.

“I’ve been involved with Calvin for several years, and I usually go to Michigan in January to present a paper or lead worship,” he said. “This year, because of the pandemic, they decided to take advantage of the online format and have people worship with congregations in different parts of the world.”  Some joined from locations where worshippers had gathered in person; others, like the Brazilian service, were entirely remote.

Silva Steuernagel, who is Director of the Sacred Music Program at Perkins, put together an online worship service for the 2021 virtual symposium, “Worship with the Church in Brazil.” All of the worship leaders – with the exception of himself and another Brazilian musician based in the U.S. – participated from various parts of Brazil. The lively service, titled “Esperança: A Liturgy to Renew Hope,” showcased Brazilian rhythms and sounds, and featured readings and music in Portuguese as well as Spanish and English.

“The organizers asked me to put together an immersive experience that would feel like an in-person worship experience in a congregation in Brazil,” he said.

Silva Steuernagel relied on a network of Brazilian musicians and liturgists, some of whom were part of the Brazilian delegation at the 2019 event. This year, he called on the delegates to put together the prayers and readings, along with musicians in Brazil he has worked with and knows. He curated music that was composed primarily of Brazilian worship music – instead of western hymnody translated into Portuguese – and that highlighted the flavor of Brazilian congregational music.

“It was a long process, because there was a lot of back-and-forth with the musicians to get that kind of live, improvisatory Brazilian-music feel,” he said.  “We really wanted to make sure we captured that vibe.”

The annual symposium is sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship at Calvin University and the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Steuernagel added that the Calvin Symposium is one of the most well-attended events on worship in the U.S., attracting thousands from around the world. This year’s conference ran January 6–26, and attracted registrants, including students, faculty, artists, musicians, pastors, preachers, scholars, teachers, worship leaders and planners, and worshipers.

“Calvin does a really good job of bringing scholars and practitioners together,” he said.

Silva Steuernagel’s work with Calvin in the last few years has focused on multi-lingual worship, and that was part of the design of the worship service.

“We’re looking for better ways to worship in more than one language, other than the classic, clunky mode where the preacher says a sentence, you stop, and translate the sentence. Our goal was to move away from English as a presumed common denominator.”

He recalled an instance when he produced a multilingual worship service, without every piece translated. An American attendee commented afterward: “This was beautiful. I just wish we had translations with everything, because we didn’t know what was going on.” Steuernagel replied: “That’s how everyone else feels all the time. This idea that English is the lingua franca, the common denominator, of Christians worshipping around the world is not true at all.”

In the Calvin worship service, he designed it so that the worship flowed seamlessly between Portuguese, Spanish and English. He chose a few hymns from the hymnbook Santo, Santo, Santo/Holy, Holy, Holy (GIA Publications, 2019), and invited Brazilian participants to each create their own prayers and poetry. Maria Monteiro, a Brazilian and lecturer in Church Music at Baylor University, delivered the sermon, “Hope. Esperança. Esperanza.”

“I’m really proud of the way that we worked together to craft the liturgy,” he said. “The result is a good example of how to leverage the digital medium to create and keep some sort of worship flow when people can’t participate in the ways they’re accustomed to participating. The rhythm of liturgy changes when you’re doing it online. Sermons are shorter, transitions are different. Editing helps keep the pace lively and engaging.”

The worship service is viewable online, and Steuernagel says it’s worth a look for anyone who plans worship services online, for those looking for creative alternatives for incorporating more than one language into worship (in person or virtual), and for those interested in becoming more culturally hospitable in Christian worship.

Watch the service here: