On Pilgrimage

Fall Term 2019 | From the Pusey Minister

The Rev. Dr. Stephanie Paulsell

One of the great gifts of Professor Jonathan L. Walton’s ministry in the Memorial Church was the welcome he offered to all at Harvard. As an Affiliated Minister, I was grateful for his invitation to me and other ministers across campus to practice our vocation here — to preach and teach, pray and study, protest and lament in the company of this community. Professor Walton loved to say that the Memorial Church was a “space of grace” at Harvard. His generous invitation to serve as a minister here was part of what made it so for me.

As Professor Walton goes on to enlarge the boundaries of his own vocation as Dean of Wake Forest University Divinity School, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as the Interim Pusey Minister. My first job in ministry was in a university church, and I love the reach of these places, the connections they can create between their universities and the world around them, and the unique forms of learning they offer. 

Just as we are challenged in university classrooms to discover what we can learn through disciplines like history or anthropology or mathematics, university churches offer opportunities to find out what we can learn through faith, service, community and prayer. As the Memorial Church begins its journey toward a new era of leadership, I’m particularly excited to find out what we might learn through a practice that is common to many religious traditions: the practice of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage sends us out beyond the boundaries of our institutions, opening us to new relationships; bringing us into communion with those who have gone before us; removing us from the hierarchies that structure our lives at home; deepening our attention to the sacred; and generating new thoughts and ideas. What do we learn on a pilgrimage? We learn that our lives, and the life of the world, could be different. As the Rev. Professor Peter J. Gomes loved to say: “we do not have to be as we are.”

There will be opportunities throughout the year to participate in intergenerational pilgrimages. We hope you will also consider joining our monthly book group, where we’ll discuss works by Kerry Egan, Toni Morrison, Matsuo Bashō, Valeria Luiselli and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to help shape our thinking about the practice of pilgrimage and its relation to the life of the world.

We’ll welcome preachers and teachers this semester who can help us think more deeply about the journey we are on as individuals, as a church, as a university, and as a nation, including the Rev. Gerald “Jay” Williams of Boston’s historic Union Church, a former stop on the Underground Railroad, and the Rev. Kaji Douša of Park Avenue Christian Church in New York City, whose ministry on the border has placed her on a government watch list. We will have the opportunity to engage these preachers, and many others, in the Faith & Life Forum as well.

Memorial Church Steeple and Bell

We are especially excited to welcome the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock as our William Belden Noble Lecturer in Residence for the 2019-2020 academic year. Rev. Warnock is the Senior Pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the spiritual home of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A national voice on social justice issues such as voting rights and criminal justice, Rev. Warnock is also the author of The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness. Rev. Warnock will deliver lectures on Oct. 16, Nov. 20, March 11, and April 22. 

As always, Edward Jones and the Harvard University Choir will deepen our attention to the sacred on Sunday mornings as well as in their Nov. 3 concert of music by C.P.E. Bach, Mozart, and Haydn and the 110th Annual Christmas Carol Services on Dec. 8 and Dec. 10, among others. We are also welcoming a new musician to the Memorial Church this summer. David von Behren joins us as Assistant University Organist and Choirmaster.

Lastly, I am pleased to announce that the Rev. Alanna C. Sullivan will assume new administrative responsibilities for the church. In addition to her excellent work attending to the pastoral aspects of Memorial Church, including liturgical planning and leading worship, student programming, and overseeing the seminarian program, she will also oversee finance and operations, facilities, and events management. 

With human dignity under attack from the White House to the border, we need practices that can help us move through the world more consciously, attentive to the sacred within and around us, awake to the claims that the journeys of others make on our lives. We need practices that can help us shake free of the debilitating formation of oppressive structures and hateful ideologies. We need practices that remind us that the world can change, and so can we.

I look forward to being on pilgrimage with you this year—


Stephanie Paulsell signature

Stephanie Paulsell
Interim Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church of Harvard University
Susan Shallcross Swartz Professor of the Practice of Christian Studies, Harvard Divinity School



See also: Pusey Minister