19 January 2010

On Soulful Sundown, Part I: What (Is It?)

Images from Soulful Sundown services, First Parish Church, Duxbury, MA

Can you remember the last time you went to church and saw young adults in the pews? How about in the pulpit? No?

Try going at night.

For over a decade now, many young Unitarian Universalists have been embracing an alternative way of "doing church": the Soulful Sundown.

Created in 1998 by the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar (then a student minister at Boston's First and Second Church), Soulful Sundown services are eclectic, interactive gatherings (usually organized by young adults) that encourage attendees to engage deeply with each other and with the worship experience in an atmosphere of creative collaboration.

In his instruction manual for Soulful Sundown, subtitled "Re-imagining Unitarian Universalist Worship for Young Adults," Lavanhar describes these services as having been designed to appeal to those who feel alienated by a traditional, 19th-century style of worship that requires them to passively recieve of spiritual teachings. Younger generations, he argues, need "a form of worship or religion" that allows them to participate more actively and "that is in sync with their culture and their way of learning and being in the world."

For this reason, no Soulful Sundown is exactly the same. Some are informal and concert-like, led by performers whose talents provide insight into the meaning of life and the nature of God. Others are long-form discussions during which worshipers can explore spiritual questions and share wisdom. Still others rely on video presentations or computer-generated slideshows to expand on a service's theme. No matter what elements are incorporated, each service strives to challenge, inspire, enlighten, and comfort those present and seeks to provide ways for attendees to participate.

So what does this alternative form of worship mean for your church and for Unitarian Universalism at large? Check out Part II: Why (Should We Bother?)
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