Song and silence

Carsen Maciag | For the TidingsAshland resident Art Rosine lights a prayer candle at the service on Tuesday.

On Tuesday evenings just as the sun is setting, about a dozen students and community members gather at Ashland First Congregational United Church of Christ to rest with God.

They sing simple songs of one or two lines, listen to recitations of scripture and mystical writings and sit in silence for 10 minutes to pray and reflect in the candlelit sanctuary.

It is a taiz&

233; service, modeled after the practices of Christian monks in a small French village during World War II.

The church began the services three years ago, but breathed new life into it last fall with a $10,000 grant from the Central Pacific Conference for United Church of Christ. The grant pays for musicians from Jefferson Public Radio and advertising at Southern Oregon University, the target audience for the program, renamed "Thirst" to attract the younger crowd.

"I started it because it was a style of worship that I had participated in in Berkeley, and I loved it," said Rev. Pam Shepherd of the United Church of Christ. "I felt like it fed me spiritually, so I felt like it would feed other people."

When it was re-imagined last fall, Mark Yaconelli took control of the service, bringing more than 15 years of contemplative worship experience with him. Yaconelli, who is working on his fourth book on the subject, has received national media attention for his work using contemplative practices to draw youth back to the church.

He said he believes contemplative worship can help young people experience God, something they might have missed watching their parents' generation attend church.

"There's so much pretending going on," he said, providing an example of parents arguing in the car on the way to church then putting on a happy face once inside. "They get the message this is an unreal place &

'I'm not supposed to be real here.'"

Although the purpose of the service is not to recruit new church members from the campus, Yaconelli said they do hope to provide a space where students can disengage from a hectic world filled with iPods, computers and high expectations and reflect on their lives.

The service fits into the larger plans of the church, which also has a Thursday night prayer service and sometimes incorporates elements of silent contemplation into their Sunday morning worship. Several attending the service, both young and old, say they have found something they never expected at church through this style of worship.

"I thought it would be boring and have a stereotypical church atmosphere," said Kimberly Levy, a junior at SOU who plays piano for the service. "I love this place. It's just a really great place to relax and do introspection.

She said she would like to see more of her peers come to the service, which is still mainly composed of older community members.

"It's really good for college students because we don't any structure in our lives, and our schedules are constantly changing," she said. "It's really important for us to have a scheduled block in our week where we are surrounded by wonderful, accepting people, and we can let go of our stresses."

Catherine Larkin, a regularly attending community member, said she stopped attending church in high school and returned only this past Christmas.

"I've been very spiritually centered, but haven't really found a home in the churches until I came here," she said. "I just love the quiet and the music and the candlelight and the fellowship."

Even Jim Martin, a retired United Church of Christ minister, found something new to add to his practice of faith.

"It keeps me on track with my faith and it's very peaceful," he said. "I feel like by being here, I'm encouraging other people who are here."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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