Enduring Harvard Tradition Adjusts to New Class Schedule

Morning Prayers in Appleton ChapelLara Glass, Student Program Fellow at the Memorial Church, leads Morning Prayers in Appleton Chapel. Photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications

By Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications

Morning Prayers will start 15 minutes early on Oct. 1, marking the beginning of a new schedule for a piece of enduring Harvard tradition that takes place in Memorial Church’s Appleton Chapel before classes each day.

The short service of choral music, Psalm readings, prayers, and daily guest homily will now be held from 8:30 to 8:45 a.m. Monday through Friday during the academic term.

The reason for the change is the elimination this fall of “Harvard Time,” which allowed students to be up to seven minutes late for class. The earlier start will give faculty and students, including members of the choir, time to reach their 9 a.m. classes punctually following the service.

“The 16 Choral Fellows of the Harvard University Choir devote so much time and energy to filling Appleton Chapel with glorious music on a daily basis, but recently several of our singers are consistently late to class, which is unacceptable,” said Edward Elwyn Jones, Gund University Organist and Choirmaster in the Memorial Church. “The new schedule will allow our students to begin the day in song and continue to class in a timely fashion.”

Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences approved the new class schedule last spring. The decision was made in preparation of the 2020 opening of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences across the Charles River in Allston, according to a recent article in The Harvard Crimson. To allow travel time between campuses, class start times are now staggered between Cambridge and Allston. The earliest classes of the day in Cambridge start at 9 a.m.

May Wang ’20, a member of the Choral Fellows sings at Morning PrayersChoral Fellows member May Wang ’20 (right) sings with the choir during Morning Prayers in Appleton Chapel. Photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications

May Wang ’20, a member of the Choral Fellows, said she was missing the first few minutes of class each day because Morning Prayers were ending just as her first class began.

“The new time means that I don't have to be late for class, and I can use the new 15-minute passing time to prepare myself for my first class of the day, which is pretty helpful since it's wholly in French,” she said. “Plus, some of our Fellows have to make it to classes that they are teaching, so I imagine the new time change will help them out too.”

Morning worship services at Harvard date back to the founding of the University in 1636, and were mandatory at 7 a.m. before classes for more than a century. Morning Prayers remained compulsory until 1886, when the requirement was eliminated by the University.

Times for the service have also changed over the years. Cynthia Rossano, a long-time congregant and historian of Memorial Church, said the time was moved to 7:15 a.m. sometime before 1886.

She said it appears that a series of time changes happened in the midst of the debate that led to the withdraw of mandatory student prayer in the 1880s. An 1888 article in The Boston Daily Globe reported that Morning Prayers began at 7:15 a.m. But by 1884, the time had been changed to 7:45 a.m. and then finally to 8:45 a.m., according to a story written in the Nov. 29 edition of The New York Times.

News of the time change was shared with regular Morning Prayers and Sunday Service congregants in September. The Rev. Katherine Schofield, interim minister at the Memorial Church, said members of the Harvard community as well as local residents who regularly attend the service have been understanding and willing to adjust to the new time.

“Some professors, and many students who attend regularly expressed their gratitude for the time change as they will no longer have to rush and arrive late for class,” she said. “Overall everyone has been very supportive because they understand that allowing students to attend Morning Prayers and still arrive to class on time is of paramount importance.”

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Morning Payers will begin 15 minutes early starting Oct. 1