Summer was still in full swing this morning as Harvard President Drew Faust delivered the first Morning Prayers of the fall semester in the Memorial Church’s vaulted Appleton Chapel. The faculty, staff, students, and other members of the Harvard community who filled the dark pews amid the rising heat reflected Faust’s message that being at Harvard “is about being together.”
“This is a bold and a brave commitment,” said Faust from the dais, bright sunlight streaming through the large Palladian window behind her. “This year we are acutely aware of conflicts that seem to be tearing peoples apart across the nation and around the globe. And we have been recently reminded of frictions here on our own campus by those who have felt marginalized or unsafe. All the more reason for us to be especially mindful, especially vigilant, especially dedicated to what we believe in: that a shared commitment to learning, to the pursuit of truth, to the rigor and respect of argument and evidence bind us together across our differences.”
Faust urged her listeners to embrace, “explore, and celebrate” those differences. She likened the Harvard community’s diversity to a symphony that relies on a range of instruments and rigorous practice to reach its ideal sound.
“I ask you today as we begin this new year to rededicate yourselves to that commitment, to that effort. To cherishing our diversity, to making it work, to enabling all of us to be our best selves. To all together performing that Harvard symphony.”
The daily ritual that mixes prayer, a brief address, and song has been held at Harvard since the School was established in 1636. About 70 people attended the opening 15-minute service.
In keeping with tradition, the Choral Fellows of Harvard University provided the music, opening the service with the William Billings hymn “Awake My Heart; Arise My Tongue.”
The Rev. Jonathan L. Walton, Harvard’s Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, drew the session to a close with his own message of encouragement and hope. Love your neighbor and yourself, Walton said.
“Be quick to compliment, slow to criticize, and if you do so, do so constructively,” he said. “Be led by your faith, never by your fears. And when we do these things we will begin to approximate what it means to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God.”