By Alanna Copenhaver
This Fall Term the Memorial Church has been exploring the ironies, tensions, and nuances of what it means to be a university church. Much of our character and mission is shaped by the fact that we reside at the intersection of paradoxical identities — we are a house of worship and a part of a university; we are a church and a memorial; we are deeply rooted in our Christian faith and radically open to people of different faiths; we want to create a culture of calm and to hold ourselves to high standards. Although at face value these identities appear to conflict, we aim to hold them in a creative tension with one another. These tensions demand our attentiveness and thoughtfulness as we discern our place and call in the Harvard community.
One tension I find to be particularly animating and pertinent for our students is between doubt and belief. Students come to college with deep faith, no faith, and searching for faith. For many of them, it is the first time they are away from the people who know them and the places that ground them. Anxiety arises when one’s understanding of the world becomes challenged and complicated by new experiences. No wonder young adulthood is steeped in questions that appear in many shapes and forms — and rarely are they insignificant ones: Who am I? Is there a God? Why is there evil in the world? What is the purpose of my life?
In matters of faith, questions and doubts often are portrayed as a threat to faith, but they have the power to serve the development of faith. In fact, doubts and questions mean that we take our faith seriously. Questions and doubts call our attention to actively examine our relationship with God. Our university environment so often emphasizes the importance of having the right answer. However, uncertainty is nothing to fear at the Memorial Church — doubts and questions are an important part of one’s faith.
Frederick Buechner says, “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” Communities that remain resilient in the face of both doubt and wonder can be profound in the development of faith for young adults. And that resilience is critical to our work in “empowering community members to serve the world as well-informed, compassionate, moral citizens” as our new mission statement charges us to do.