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In memory of Spencer Lavan (1937-2016)

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 17, 2016

The Rev. Dr. Spencer Lavan died on September 29, 2016 in Brunswick, Maine at the age of 78.

Spencer was born on December 31, 1937 to Fay and Peter Lavan in New York City. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from Tufts University in 1959, a Bachelor of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School in 1962, and two degrees from McGill University: a Master of Arts in Islamic Studies in 1965 and a Ph.D. in Comparative Religions in 1970.


Rev. Dr. Lavan’s full and varied ministry led him to serve both parishes and communities, as well as to a lifelong career in academia. He was ordained to the ministry in 1962 by the Unitarian Church in Charleston, SC, and he was called to minister there from 1962 to 1964. For two years he served as associate minister to the Unitarian Church of Montreal; at the same time, he served as Minister to Students at McGill University while also completing graduate studies there. Soon afterwards Rev. Dr. Lavan began his academic work, first serving Northeastern University for two years and then Tufts University for a decade. In 1978 he returned to active ministry, serving the First Parish in Lexington, MA as its interim minister, and later served the Maine Humanities Council as its community minister. In 1982 he organized and then chaired the Department of Humanities at the University of New England until 1988. From 1988 to 1996 Rev. Dr. Lavan served as President and Dean of Meadville Lombard Theological School. He retired from the ministry in 2000.


Rev. Dr. Lavan received three honorary degrees: from the Protestant Theological Institute of Cluj/Kolosvar, Romania, the school preparing Hungarian speaking Unitarian Ministers for pulpits in Transylvania; from Meadville Lombard Theological School; and from the University of New England. From 1984 through 1988 he was editor of the Journal of Medical Humanities and Bio-Ethics, and was later a founder of Collegium: Liberal Religious Studies.


Rev. Dr. Lavan performed extensive service on behalf of the denomination. He was a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Pamphlet Commission, and later served as President of the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society and co-editor of the Dictionary of Unitarian Universalist Biography. Rev. Dr. Lavan also served on the board of Meadville Lombard Theological School, and was a member and later president of the Melcher Book Award Committee. In 2003, he was awarded the UUA's Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism.


Rev. Dr. Lavan authored two books based on his study of religion, including Unitarians and India: A Study in Encounter and Response, published in 1991. He had a passion for teaching; he enjoyed travelling—for work and with his family—as well as spending time at home with his students and friends; and he loved classical music, sailing in Casco Bay, and playing the piano.


Lee Barker, president of Meadville Lombard Theological School, said that in addition to Rev. Dr. Lavan’s many contributions to the institution he and his wife Susan “took a personal interest in each of their students, creating a hospitality that drew the entire Meadville Lombard community together... [The school] and all of Unitarian Universalism have lost a great leader.”


He is survived by his wife of 55 years Susan Lavan; his children Jonathan, Daniel (Deborah Berger), Timothy (Cindy), and Joanna; his grandchildren Charlie, Peter, Anna, Isaac, Lucia, and Malcolm; and his brother Lawrence.


His family plans to hold a private memorial service on a date to be determined, and Meadville Lombard Theological School is planning a public memorial service for January 2017.


In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Meadville Lombard Theological School.


Notes of condolence may be sent to Susan Lavan at 11 Cascos Way, Harpswell, ME 04079.

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