By Professor Jonathan L. Walton
We just experienced a year that many might prefer to forget. The United Kingdom shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union. Violence in Syria continues to displace, murder, and maim at catastrophic levels. The United States endured an ugly presidential election that seemed to embolden this nation’s most debased dimensions. And terror attacks from Nigeria to Turkey have caused unspeakable grief from which many will never recover. When we add the loss of cultural artists and intellectuals such as David Bowie, Prince, Carrie Fisher, Gwen Ifill and others, those whose craft kept us anchored during uncertain times, it is no wonder that so many of us are glad to cast 2016 into the trash-bin of history.
Unfortunately, life does not change as readily as the calendar year. After the euphoria of our New Year celebration wears off, we must still deal with the hangover induced by global violence, fear, bigotry, and economic insecurity. As people of faith, our work begins anew.
This is the legacy and mission of the Memorial Church. Since 1932 the Memorial Church has remained a site of spiritual grounding and ethical engagement. Whether the moral challenges associated with the Cold War, armed international conflict, or the long struggle for civil rights, this community has had a role to play. For 85 years, the Memorial Church has been a consistent moral presence.
Some of you, for instance, can still recall the sermons of Dr. George Buttrick. His eloquence and deep intellect encouraged you to suppress the fear of geopolitical shifts in order to help the world heal from the horrors of fascism. Your efforts proved that you were anything but the “Silent Generation.” A few of you have shared stories with me about the ministry of Dr. Charles Price. His moral leadership during the Civil Rights movement impelled students to sacrifice the comfort of Cambridge to head south during Freedom Summer in order to challenge American racial apartheid. And many remember the profound insights of my most recent Plummer Professor predecessor, Rev. Peter Gomes. His writings and ministry presence allowed the world to imagine houses of worship that are open and affirming to all of God’s children.
This year we plan to appeal to this rich history as a source of continued inspiration. This is why we want to know your story. In the upcoming months, the Memorial Church will provide multiple ways for you to tell us about your history with the church. We want to hear about that one sermon that inspired you to act differently. Share a special moment from a wedding, Christmas Carol Service or Commencement that is forever etched in your mind. Tell us about that lecture, class, or conference at the Memorial Church that animated you to confront a challenge with courage and/or empathy. Or a moving experience singing with fellow choir members. You might even describe sitting in an organ recital, volunteering with blockmates, or walking through the sanctuary alone. We just want you to share an experience associated with the Memorial Church that had a lasting impact.
Your testimonies will serve a dual purpose. First, they will help us to honor you and the rich past of the Memorial Church. As you may have heard me say repeatedly, the Memorial Church is so much more than bricks and mortar. We are a community of people spreading a message of love and hope across the globe. Our aim is to document the Memorial Church’s impact and we will broadcast your testimonies across multiple media platforms.
Second, we plan to appeal to these testimonies as a source of encouragement and instruction for current students. Many are doing incredible work. Whether it’s students working on behalf of climate reform or the University Choir performing a benefit concert for Syrian refugees, they are making a difference. Nevertheless, we all know that there is much work to do. Dark forces are unleashing misogyny, religious bigotry, and ethnic animosity into the cultural air in ways unfamiliar to many of the millennial generation. We intend to use your spiritual witness to embolden another generation of change agents.
This is our story. This is our mission. During times of cultural uncertainty and heightened anxiety, we will continue to work toward providing the spiritual and intellectual resources to confront life’s challenges with courage, empathy, and an ethic of love. This is what it means to educate minds, expand hearts, and enrich lives. Keep going and growing with us!
Jonathan L. Walton
Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church