Happy New Year!

By Jonathan L. Walton

South Africa

Greetings from Pretoria, South Africa!

I am kicking off 2015 in this beautiful country with over a dozen Harvard College students in the township of Mamelodi. For the past seven years, students from Christian Impact and Athletes in Action have partnered with the University of Pretoria community in order to provide a college preparatory program for local high school students. The program has been a great success by all metrics. This is true, in part, due to amazing young women and men from Harvard who are willing to raise necessary travel funds, sacrifice their J-Term, and teach courses in ethical leadership, community development, and language arts for three weeks. Their work has helped to diversify the University of Pretoria across color and class lines by increasing the pool of potential students throughout the township. 

They tell me that I am here to encourage South African teenagers to stretch themselves intellectually and spiritually. God only knows whether I have been able to fulfill this task. Nevertheless, I can say without a doubt that these kids are transforming me. Their sense of hospitality is humbling, their laughter is infectious, and their love of learning is inspiring. I am already looking forward to my next visit. Maybe some of you will join me. 

My presence in South Africa, however, does not hamper our ministries back on campus. The Memorial Church staff is currently putting the finishing touches on what promises to be an incredible Spring Term. Part of the excitement about this semester has to do with the Memorial Church’s role on campus in commemorating a significant event in U.S. history, “Bloody Sunday” and the subsequent Selma to Montgomery march. We will mark the fiftieth anniversary of this monumental moment on several occasions in the upcoming months.

For instance, President Drew Faust will lead Morning Prayers on the fiftieth anniversary of the march to offer reflections on her trip to Selma as an undergraduate. She decided to answer Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to join protesters from across the country, and now understands her participation as a decisive moment in her life. Unitarian Universalist minister Clark Olsen will also join us in April to lead the Faith & Life Forum, as well as deliver the Sunday sermon. Reverend Olsen was one of three white ministers brutally attacked on the sidewalks of Selma by white supremacists. Tragically, one of the ministers, James Reeb, died two days later. But like so many others courageous women and men, Reverend Olsen would let neither hatred nor attempts upon his life silence him. 

Finally, this year’s William Belden Noble lecturer will be documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson, Jr. Among his notable films include Freedom Riders (2010) and Freedom Summer (2014). We will offer screenings of a few of his documentaries leading up to the event. Moreover, rather than adhering to a standard lecture format, Mr. Nelson has agreed to let President Drew Faust interview him while viewing and discussing meaningful clips selected from his work. With student activism reaching a fever pitch in recent months, we consider this a timely opportunity to provide the community with a historical refresher course on the power of student protests.

Finally, the Harvard University Choir will be as busy as ever this Spring Term. They will conclude J-Term with a mini-tour of New York City, New Haven, and Worcester. We will welcome UChoir alums back to campus for a reunion in March. And Harvard ARTS FIRST weekend will include the UChoir spring concert, George Frideric Handel’s oratorio Athalia. Be sure to mark your calendars. 

I am so excited about another amazing Term. We appreciate all of your generous support and continued prayers. Thanks to you, we are able to remain a space of grace at the center of Harvard Yard that reaches the entire world; a space committed to educating minds, expanding hearts, and enriching lives!

Hambani kahle!

One Luv,

Jonathan L. Walton
Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister, The Memorial Church

See also: Pusey Minister