Celebrating Emily

A Tribute

How shall I honor my colleague Emily Brink upon her retirement from editing Reformed Worship these past twenty years? What is the literary equivalent of a bouquet of flowers and a gold watch? I’m not sure! However, when I contemplate Emily’s contribution to RW, I think of three descriptive nouns:


[noun]—the person responsible for composing the movements of a dance and supervising its production; one who produces a dance by integrating the dancing, music, decor, story, costumes, and lighting, and who is also involved in auditioning the dancers, choosing a performance venue, and conducting rehearsals.

As the resident choreographer at RW, Emily planned the row dances in which traditional worship styles were paired with contemporary resources; she masterminded the mock combat between the forces of the Lectionary and the troops of lectio continua; and she envisioned the often graceful but occasionally surprising pas de deux of metrical psalmody with global song. In fact, Emily composed the water ballet in which RW’s print resources were splashed with multicolored visuals, even icons, from many participants. Like a choreographer of marching bands, Emily integrated different liturgical ensembles: in reading RW we heard the harmony or blending of worship elements from what John Witvliet described as the “charismatic, liturgical, ecumenical, church growth, and neo-confessional” movements (RW 79). And who can forget the invigorating and thought-provoking gymnastics of Emily’s editorials, as, for example, when she described her trip to Taizé in glowing detail, only to end by lamenting that as a woman she could never “join this community” of brothers (RW 63)?


[noun]—the person who sets a publication’s standards for the gathering and presenting of information, as well as for motivating and developing the staff; one who works in concert with other staff in strategic and operational planning that meets goals and budgets.

As editor, Emily has excelled at implementing RW’s statement of purpose: “to provide worship leaders and committees with practical assistance in planning, structuring, and conducting worship in the Reformed tradition.” This has meant working with hundreds of authors, composers, and visual artists, to shape each issue of RW into a helpful mix of theological and historical reflections sprinkled liberally with practical resources of songs, prayers, art, and complete services. Current readers of RW may not recall that RW was born from a small mimeographed newsletter circulated to participants in the 1983 Conference on Liturgy and Music, and that from its very first issue in 1986, RW offered 48 pages of rich fare to its readers. Over these twenty years, Emily has worked with a changing array of editorial staff members, editorial council members, editorial consultants, and a small core of columnists. Not surprisingly, this team effort—led by Emily—has earned RW numerous awards from the Associated Church Press and Evangelical Press Association, and high praise from worship leaders in all segments of North American Christianity.


[noun]—one who is privately employed to perform domestic services, or who is publicly employed to perform services, as for a government; one who expresses submission, honor, or indebtedness to another.

As a servant of the church and its worship, Emily has humbly done her editorial work for the good of the local church, to serve in a domestic manner with workable resources to enrich both the village church and the megachurch. Emily has drawn richly on her editorial work to serve as a plenary speaker, workshop leader, or hymn festival planner for worship conferences, retreats, and conventions that have taken her from Grand Rapids, Michigan, to Sioux Center, Iowa, and Cultus Lake, British Columbia—but also to Montreat, Toronto, Denver, Tokyo, New York City, and Beijing. Her suitcase always contained copies of RW! But even more important than her domestic or international service is Emily’s submission to the Reformed faith, her honoring of an ever-reforming tradition of worship in which biblical texts, covenant theology, dialogic structures, and excellent artistry exalt our triune God.

What a wonderful mix for leadership of RW—choreographer, editor-in-chief, and servant—all wrapped up in one person!

News of Emily’s departure as editor of Reformed Worship traveled fast! For this, her final issue as editor, the staff of RW wanted to save some space to honor her contributions over the years. So here are some thoughts from former staffers, council members, and others who’ve been drawn into Emily’s magnetic force field over the years.


I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, Emily, because we have seen your love for all his people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I’m profoundly grateful for your partnership in the faith which has deepened our understanding of the worship we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given us all great joy and encouragement, because you have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people with wonderful resources!                            —BP, paraphrased from Philemon 4-7

RW staff: When in our worship God is glorified, and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried, “Alleluia!”

RW editorial council members: How often, in planning worship, we have found a new dimension in sound and art, as liturgy moved us to a more profound “Alleluia!”

RW consultants: So has the church, in liturgy and song, in faith and love, through centuries of strife, borne witness to the truth in every tongue: “Alleluia!”

RW readers: Let every instrument be tuned for praise! Let all rejoice who have a voice to raise! And may God give us faith to act always with Alleluia! upon Alleluia!

—BP, paraphrased from Fred Pratt Green’s hymn “When in Our Music God Is Glorified”

Every songbird learns its unique tune from its parents. When still a chick its little bird brain effortlessly absorbs their song by a process called “imprinting.” Once the song is imprinted, that’s it. The bird sings that song for life and pays it forward.

Emily Brink’s ability to absorb new cultural patterns, forms of speech, relationships, and ways of doing things comes to her as naturally as if, like a songbird, she just imprinted them. But in her case the process never stops. She masters them so smoothly and effortlessly that you’d think she grew up with them from the time she was just a little gaffer.

Let me offer an example. As a Dutch-Canadian immigrant living in Canada, the culture imprinted on me was one in which close relationships were tested and toughened with lots of good-natured ribbing. Relationships that were treated like glass tended to break quickly, while those that were kicked around like footballs endured and became ever stronger.

When I came to Grand Rapids and joined CRC Publications and the RW team, people kept asking me whether I was related to a certain professor of church polity at Calvin Seminary who had the same last name as I did. After having that question put to me once too often, in typical Dutch-Canadian fashion, I offered, that, indeed, “Henry is my dumb, ugly brother.”

You don’t need to say something like that more than once for it to imprint on RW staff. That included our beloved editor, Emily, who, as always, quickly internalized the lingo.

Sure enough, one day I was carrying on some polite conversation with a particularly well-dressed and well-mannered sixth-generation American. Concerned that we quickly needed to set up an urgent meeting with my more learned brother, Emily stormed into my office. Without missing a beat, she offered: “Bob we must have lunch with your dumb, ugly brother at the seminary and we have to have it this week! Please set it up.”

With that she was off—leaving in her wake a thoroughly dumbfounded American and a theological editor who was left with a whole lot of “‘splainin’ to do.”

—Bob De Moor, former theological editor for RW

Emily, through the many years we have known each other you have been a constant in my life. I have always admired the many talents God has given you in worship. And I have always appreciated the kind of support you give to me and others by your positive spirit, open and warm heart, and congenial personality. There are not enough words to convey my respect for your work and person. I pray all God’s blessings on you as you make this special turn in life and find new ways to serve God and the church.

—Robert Webber, RW Editorial Consultant
and Myers Professor of Ministry, Northern Seminary

Emily, thank you for your faith, your joy, your vision of the Kingdom, and your quiet determination—the fruit of which have empowered the praise of tens of thousands of people, many of whom may never even know your name. You are a servant of the Servant, and you have changed Protestant worship in this generation! Congratulations on twenty years, on vol. 80, and on whatever the Lord has coming next!

—Paul Detterman, RW Council member

Working on RW with Emily was always stimulating, usually challenging, and seldom predictable. When an article failed, a writer didn’t deliver, or a theme issue refused to take shape, Emily always “magically” came up with something to take its place. She dealt with pressure and overload in an unusaul way too. While the rest of us stewed and fretted in our offices, Emily went camping—along with her computer! She usually came back refreshed and ready to meet our deadlines.
I, and other members of the Faith Alive staff, will deeply miss Emily’s presence in our day-to-day work—her intelligence, her creativity, her good humor, and her vast knowledge of worship and music.                   

—Ruth Vander Hart, former RW managing editor

Emily, my earliest memories of your work are the interactions with synod about the “new” Psalter Hymnal; first to get synod’s approval about the overall approach, and second to get their approval of all the songs in it. Getting synod to approve all the songs was an amazing achievement, and one that you handled masterfully. I doubt we’ll get synod to spend this kind of time again!
Thanks for all you’ve done to enhance Reformed worship through the years.

—Gary Mulder, executive director, Faith Alive Christian Resources

My first opportunity to experience Emily was the Board of Publication’s involvement in the editing of the Psalter Hymnal. As a relatively new board member, I was amazed at Emily’s ability to engage in the multifaceted conversation about the various hymns under consideration for the hymnal and then sit down and lead the board members in the singing of these prospective hymns. I remember thinking: What a gift to the church . . . thank you, God!

—Norm Thomasma, former RW Council member

Bert Polman was a hymnologist, professor and chair of the music department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He passed away in July 2013. 

Reformed Worship 80 © June 2006, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.