By Benjamin Schafer ’19
My name is Benjamin Schafer, and I am a member of the Harvard College Class of 2019. I serve as an usher at Memorial Church, and I am also a proud member of the MemChurch Student Advisory Board.
Let me first say what an honor it is to share my story—I am so grateful to Prof. Jonathan L. Walton and the Rev. Alanna C. Sullivan for their generous invitation.
I came to Harvard in Aug. 2015 quite sure of most things. I planned to study government, make some connections in the political arena, and spend the rest of my working life in politics. By mid-October, I wanted to be a doctor — this, mind you, coming from the guy who took psychology freshman fall to get out of a lab requirement. After re-realizing that biology wasn’t my thing, I was going to be a consultant, and then a minister, and then a teacher, and…well you get the point. After somewhere between two and two-hundred concentration changes, secondary changes, and intended career paths, I’ve finally found an academic home in the history department and comfort not knowing where my post-graduate life will take me.
But no matter how certain I was of my academic and career trajectory every time I switched, I was incredibly unsure of my spiritual path when I arrived at Harvard. Then I met the Rev. Lucy Forster-Smith, whose benediction at my class’s convocation was so beautiful that I planned to seek her out the next time she preached. After coming to her first sermon during my freshman fall, we got together in her office, where she encouraged me to explore but to know that MemChurch could always be my home. Last spring, after a few detours at other churches in Harvard Square, I met Rev. Sullivan, who, when I sat down to meet with her, responded to my “it’s a long story” comment about my faith journey with “I’ve got time.” It was not until Easter that I met Prof. Walton, whose charisma and warmth nearly knocked me over the first time I met him. There was something special in this place, I thought, that three such amazing people could be so open and welcoming to me, a freshman too sure of himself, and to all others.
I started coming to Morning Prayers and Sunday services regularly, and the more faces I saw and names I learned, the more I understood that it was not just the staff that made the Memorial Church a home. Through every paper, midterm, final, and major life event, the clergy and the congregation of this amazing community have been by my side. Who else gets to say that he sits next to Boston’s Best Bartender at Morning Prayers every day, that one of his mentors is on the board of an incredible school for underprivileged youth in Dorchester, that his church friends include the founder of an international literacy project, a talented singer, a gifted economics student, members of the varsity volleyball and lacrosse teams, and some of the most amazing graduate students from the Divinity School and the Kennedy School?
In these most challenging of times, it’s a pretty radical idea that we affirm here — that, as Prof. Walton says, the love of God and the love of humanity are, in fact, one love, that we are all truly one family, united by a common cause and a common maker, that everyone here matters. This is what it means to be a space of grace in the center of Harvard Yard. You see, outside of these walls, it’s often easier as a Harvard student to identify as your concentration, your extracurriculars, your house, or your intended career path, but I know that whether I’m a politician, a physician, or a professor, inside the Memorial Church I will always be Ben, and that’s what MemChurch means to me.