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Large Church 2001
Soulful Sundown
Lavanhar Promotes "Soulful Sundown" Concept as Ideal Way to Minister to Young Adults

(November 3, 2001 - Portland, OR) During a day of workshops on the theme, "Changing Congregations, Changing Cultures" as part of the fifth UUA Large Church Conference, the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, the young adult who now ministers to the third-largest member congregation in the UUA, was promoting the needs of young adults to a room filled with ministers, music professionals, and lay leaders. Lavanhar, who developed the Soulful Sundown model for providing worship and ministry to young adults during his tenure as Assistant Minister at the First and Second Church of Boston, had taken the theme to his current pastorate in Tulsa, OK, where he now serves as Senior Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church.

Lavanhar was committed to reaching out to young adults in the Tulsa area who seek a spiritual home, and he wanted to see if the model he'd created in the East could work in other locales. He had a simple model for the weekly services which happened on Sundays, just before sundown (5:30 PM). While focused specifically for young adults, all are welcome at the service. The format was the same each week: there would be a band who would play, a short video presentation on a theme that would connect to the band's music. There would be candlelighting, a 'message' (a homily), singing of multicultural-based, upbeat music, dancing, a chance for socializing and refreshments, and a chance to learn more about Unitarian Universalism. Lavanhar needed funding to put the program in place, and the faith of his congregation to test out the program.

Soulful SundownLavanhar said, "We are trying to find entry points for [young adult] people (to come into the church). They don't want to go to bar to meet people; they want to deepen their spiritual level. For a lot of people, the need for intimacy and developing relationships is very important. And for newcomers to Unitarian Universalism, it's not a strong pitch - it's ½ hour to 45 minutes of meeting one another. If people want to learn more, they can. The slogan developed for Soulful Sundown is, 'It's about inspiration, not conversion' and in this way, it differs significantly from what might be encountered in many of Tulsa's other churches."

How did he put the program in place? "I put the word out that I thought this needed to happen, and talked to a lot of people. During [All Souls'] canvass, I was pitching this in every direction I could. People increased pledges, but we didn't have enough and couldn't budget for it, and I let people know. And a board member told me to talk to his mother and tell her about the idea. And she said, 'I want to give you $70,000 to get this started.' Then I thought, 'let me think big.' I called the UUA and told them I wanted to do this. And they said they would give me $50,000 over five years, with $15,000 this year, which brought me to 85,000. I developed a $415,000 budget to run over five years. The first year, it will cost the congregation $5,000; the second year, $25,000; the third, $40,000; and by the sixth year, the congregation will have assumed the funding for this, and hopefully, pledges will continue."

Lavanhar said he would like to endow the program as a named Ministry to Young Adults project, commenting, "I want to tap into someone's excitement and wish for a legacy for themselves that will have meaning. They can give [their money] to the church and create a program that will minister to young people for years into the future - that whole generation that is going to die off can do this and have it mean something. I think we can get the music program endowed as well. Our church has always had an endowment, but I'm trying to offer a specific legacy to people so that they know what their money is going to do. It catches their imagination, gives a vision, and they want to be a part of it."

The Tulsa Soulful Sundown effort is further supported by a Religious Professsionals Grant that funds the work of Justin Schroeder, Tulsa's Soulful Sundown Coordinator. Funding for this effort comes from a UUA grant designed to reach out to young adults and youth - and effort which is currently seeking funding as part of the UUA's capital campaign.

The model links music from the featured band - either local, regional, or national; a video clip on the day's theme, produced by Justin, and shown on a screen between the two stools where Justin and Lavanhar sit. People sing music - Lavanhar indicated that it is of the type that UU composer/song leader Nick Page offers - pieces like the African celebratory song "We Are Free," or "There's Honey in the Rock." Also included are a greeting, a 'message,' or commentary; a candlelighting ritual which takes place with music playing, a blessing for those for whom the candles are lit, music with passing of jars for voluntary contributions, and more music, with an invitation to people to come and dance - lasting perhaps ten to twelve minutes. In this service, there is, said Lavanhar, almost a communion feeling with a candle lighting, and this is the spiritual high point of the service, not the sermon. "Ritual is very important," he said - "in this case, there are no words spoken, and that cuts across language and cultures."

Following the service, refreshments are served and there are gatherings of smaller breakout groups - including one that offers an opportunity to learn more about Unitarian Universalism; another which is a short course on what the church is about; and a breakout group on some related topic for people that haven't decided on a deeper spiritual path. Additionally, covenant groups are formed to deepen connections, with ten to twelve in each group. Lavanhar said, "every few weeks, we announce the start of another covenant group which picks up another ten to twelve people.

"With large churches," said Lavanhar, "we need to think big, not small - and give them a full time staff, and have a vision for this [young adult ministry] effort.". The Rev. Robbie Eller-Isaacs, co-minister of Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul, observed, "[young adults] come full of longing, not suspicion" and will respond to ministry like this effort. There was high enthusiasm for the program from participants in the room, some of whom have tried or plan to try the Soulful Sundown program in their congregations. The program, which has been running for only five weeks in Tulsa, is already a success, drawing about 150 people each week who are clearly thirsty for this affirming and stimulating ministry for Young Adults.

About Workshop:

I F "Reaching Young Adults Through Contemporary Worship"

At present only a handful of UU churches are exploring contemporary worship geared towards people in their 20's and 30's and they are finding success! This workshop explores models for contemporary worship that are working in UU churches already and provides information on starting one in your church.
Rev. Marlin Lavanhar is the Senior Minister of All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, OK. He is the author of Soulful Sundown: Re-Imagining Unitarian Universalist Worship For Young Adults.

Reported for the web by Deborah Weiner; formatted for the web by Julie Albanese.


Large Church 2001 · Congregational Services

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