By Professor Jonathan L. Walton
It feels great to be back! Sabbatical was productive and the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania was hospitable and accommodating. Yet we all know the line that is cliché but correct: There is no place like home!
Indeed this is an important time to return to the work of ministry. The Harvard campus, the nation, and world need to hear a message of love and hope right now. If you are like me, I am sure you have been tempted to cut off the television, silence your radio, and close your laptops this summer. Tragedy is commonplace. The terror attacks in Orlando and Nice expose our vulnerability. The killing of unarmed civilians by police officers reveal our moral failings as a nation. And vicious sniper attacks against police officers show that even the heaviest armed citizens cannot withstand the lethal power of one sick individual with a semiautomatic weapon in hand. In recent weeks I have felt myself crying out like the prophet Habakkuk, “How long, Oh Lord?”
This is why the Memorial Church is so important. We are a community brought together by a two thousand year message of hope and healing. We are a space of grace where all lives matter, even as we pay particular attention to the lives that are most vulnerable in our society. And we offer a vision of a society that is being restored and redeemed by courageous souls who unleash random acts of kindness and senseless acts of forgiveness into the world.
With the renovation of the Memorial Church underway, we will not be able to gather in the sanctuary this term. But when it is finished, we will have fully accessible entrances on the north and west sides of the building, climate control, and a redesigned lower level for student programming.
In the meantime, we will worship each Sunday at the Knafel Center in the Radcliffe Yard, beginning on Aug. 21. We have a great list of preachers scheduled for Fall Term, which includes Martin Copenhaver, president of Andover Newton Theological School and Professor Stephanie Paulsell of Harvard Divinity School. Yours truly will also be back in the pulpit each month.
Many of our services and events continue this term, albeit in various locations around campus. President Drew Faust will open Morning Prayers on Wednesday, Aug. 31 in Holden Chapel, steps from the Memorial Church in the Yard. The first service of Compline will be held at 9 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 1 on the Porch of the Memorial Church, opposite of Widener Library. We are pleased to offer special student-focused programs including MemCafé, football tailgates, and a student bereavement group, among others. Be sure to check the full Fall Term schedule for specific event locations.
Our exceptional music program continues to thrive under the masterful work of Edward Jones. This fall’s program includes two special concerts with the Harvard University Choir including Stephen Paulus’s church opera The Three Hermits in October and a special concert of Handel’s oratorio L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato in Sanders Theatre in November. And don’t miss the 107th Annual Christmas Carol Services on Dec. 11 and 13 at St. Paul Church in Harvard Square.
To be sure, the work of the Memorial Church would not be possible without our dedicated, committed, and remarkable staff. Over the summer, we bade farewell to our sexton, Jessica Shaughnessy and welcomed two new colleagues. Jeffrey Blackwell, our new Communications Specialist, joins us from a long career in multimedia journalism, including work for the Harvard Gazette. You may have already viewed his exceptional storytelling talents on our website and social media. Allison Richards, our new building manager, will oversee daily operations for the church including building maintenance and systems upkeep. Allison joins us from the operations team at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Welcome, Jeff and Allison!
As I look forward to this new academic year, I am excited to embrace the opportunities and challenges particular to the mission of our space of grace. Will there be a few missteps as we carry out our programming in temporary locations? I’m sure. Will we need to show higher levels of grace and patience toward the UChoir, ushers, ministers, seminarians, and one another each week? Absolutely! Most importantly, we must remember why we come together each week. For wherever two or three are gathered together in God’s name, we know that God will be in the midst (Matthew 18:20). During these trying and troubling times, this is good news indeed!
Jonathan L. Walton
Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister
in the Memorial Church