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A Look Behind the Worship Leader: Caryn Boelema of Westview CRC in Grand Rapids

Boelema CarynEarly this year Caryn Boelema was prepared to retire from her role as church music/worship leader at Westview Christian Reformed Church.
In fact, the church on Grand Rapids’ west side actually posted a job description and began searching for a replacement.

But now the veteran music director finds herself still serving at Westview in a growing ministry with all sorts of new musical possibilities.

“I did so much soul-searching and praying about it – I felt a ‘calling back’ I’d guess you say,” said Boelema of what led to her return.

With the blessings of the church council, she took the summer off and this fall began her part-time duties with the help of a music department assistant.

“It’s so exciting to be here - the wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing,” she said of the energy found in new songs, new volunteers and new musical ventures.


Boelema meets with two members of a worship planning team every other week, receiving scripture and sermon information from interim pastor Larry Slings to help them select songs and craft their musical approach.

She works with a differing mix of worship team members each Sunday, with a basic rhythm section plus a viola player. Occasionally a brass instrument is added.

“I rotate volunteers and include a male chorus, kids and parent-child teams,” Boelema said of her goal of inter-generational participation.

Although the congregation has been learning several new contemporary songs of late, she still includes a more traditional hymn or two in their blended worship style.

“For me and our worshipping family, it’s important that the kids learn the older songs just as our older people are learning the new,” Boelema said.

     Some current contemporary songs in their worship catalog: “10,000 Reasons,” “Lord, I Need You” and “Cornerstone.”
     A newer song by Keith and Kristyn Getty - “Lift High the Name of Jesus” – has brought some positive comments.
     Westview worships around 300 at its morning service and from 50 to 75 on Sunday evenings.
     Like many churches, Westview has considered moving to two Sunday morning services – one contemporary and one traditional. But they have continued with a single, blended service.
     “We decided it was like a family eating at the table,” Boelema reasoned.
     “When you eat with family you try to serve something that this or that person will like. You want to create the atmosphere of give and take, and be blessed by seeing other people being blessed by something different.”

                       PLENTY OF EXTRAS

     Boelema is already in “holiday mode,” planning for special Thanksgiving music and the seasonal choir which comes together during the Christmas and spring seasons.
     This fall she also started a monthly “Praise Jam” – an invitation for anyone interested to come and learn newer music or some older songs with a contemporary twist.

   “For the first one, half of those who came were kids from ages 8 to 14,” she remarked at the eager response. “And some older people are coming to learn the new songs.”
     Something is catching on – Westview anticipates welcoming 20 new members this month.
     Slings began as interim pastor early last year and is pleased to have Boelema still on board.
     “She is a joy to work with and we are very blessed to have her at Westview,” said the pastor.
I think a big reason for her coming back was that she saw the commitment of the leadership to the direction we are going and the sense of unity and excitement and couldn't imagine not being part of that.”

   Boelema is also involved with Digital Songs & Hymns, a company which “digitizes” songs for on-screen use in churches. The system includes the full music score or melody line, not just the lyrics.
     “If we’re going to sing something with four-part harmony, for example, we’ll use the score on-screen. But for a lot of the new songs, we just put on the lead (melody) line.”

                         HER OWN JOURNEY

     Boelema was born in California but raised here in West Michigan. Music is part of her earliest memories which include singing in church (Eighth Reformed in Wyoming) and in school. She started piano lessons at age 7 and began studying organ at 15.
     When she was in 8th grade, the choir teacher from Wyoming Lee High School recognized
Caryn’s talent and asked her to accompany the senior choir of upperclassmen.
     She said she’s been in church music “forever” and has directed music at a number of area churches before coming to Westview seven years ago.
     Boelema has also done some composing and arranging. She has taken songs with tricky rhythms and syncopation and made them more “friendly” for congregational singing.
     “As music has evolved it’s been an exciting journey and fun to see how people’s hearts are lifted with different styles of music.”

The Facts:

Who: Caryn Boelema

What: Worship leader, music and ensemble director, accompanist

Where: Westview Christian Reformed Church, 2929 Leonard St. NE Grand Rapids; www.westviewcrc.org, 616-453-3105

How: planning, rehearsing, directing various ensembles and leading music at two Sunday worship services

Philosophy on the role of the arts in worship: – “Music and the arts are powerful avenues through which we can express our love for God. They touch our hearts and emotions in ways that spoken words cannot. This is true not only for Jesus' followers, but also for those who may never have "met" Jesus.”

Editor’s note: If you have a suggestion of an area church music leader for a profile in this column, please send the information to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Author Information
Terry DeBoer
Terry is journalist who writes for newspapers, magazines, newsletters and websites. His most frequented “beat” is arts and entertainment. He is married with two children and lives in Grand Rapids.

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