Israel Buffardi faces congregants sitting at tables outside, holding up focaccia he made for a Sacred Supper.

At Sacred Supper, Israel Buffardi holds his freshly baked focaccia bread for the congregation to see. “This bread is … the unconditional love of my grandmother who taught me how to bake it, and the care of the person who will hand it to you in a few moments. When we eat this bread, when we share this bread, we become one.”

Photos by Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Chicken soup for the soul

Divinity School graduate finds his community in ministry

4 min read

Israel Buffardi, M.Div. ’19, walked a long and winding path before finding his calling.

The Rhode Island native was raised Catholic and from an early age felt a strong draw to spirituality and ritual. At age 14, he decided he wanted to become a priest. This plan changed when he realized he was queer. Coming out precipitated many questions about his faith, such as the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ people.

“I felt like I had a deep calling within myself, but it suddenly became inaccessible to me because of who I was and what was important to me,” he said.

During his struggle over faith and spirituality, Buffardi took the first name Israel, a figure in the Old Testament who represents “the one who wrestled with God.”

Israel Buffardi walks down the aisle of the church where in interns.
Founded in 1645 by Puritan settlers, the congregation became Unitarian in 1836 and, according to its website, built the current meeting house as “the theology of the ministers and members has continually opened up to new, expansive ideas.”

Buffardi attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., where he worked on food justice, taught children how to garden, and hosted dinner parties for foreign exchange students with his roommate.

“There was something really joyful about it,” he recalled. “I was creating community right in front of my eyes.”

Still searching for a religion to connect with, Buffardi returned to a Unitarian Universalist (UU) church, and “it clicked instantly.”

Unitarian Universalism is characterized by a shared search for spiritual growth rather than by adhering to specific religious texts or sets of rules. He first pursued a UU education at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago through distance learning. Then Buffardi became interested in attending a school that was not exclusively UU, and came to Harvard.

At the North Parish in North Andover, where Buffardi has interned during the spring semester, he lights candles for parishioners’ joys and sorrows during Sunday morning service. The symbol of Unitarian Universalism is a flaming chalice.

Israel Buffardi lights candles on the altar.

“It’s rare for a divinity school to have such a diverse group of people,” he said of Harvard. “[It allows for] building community with all different types of people and finding connections with each other and the values in their lives.”

During his senior capstone class, “Innovation in Ministry,” Buffardi worked as a ministerial intern at the North Parish of North Andover, with the goal of developing a ministry project to implement at the site by building empathy with those being served.

Buffardi also worked on the Divinity School garden and led some worship services and rituals. Since the yield from the garden is donated for a community dinner to feed people experiencing homelessness or food insecurity, Buffardi was able to combine his passions for service and food.

“A calling doesn’t just have to look like being in a church or a synagogue,” he said. “Ministry gives structure to that calling.”

Israel Buffardi by the windows of the church.
Inside the historic church.
Israel Buffardi greets congregants entering church.
Israel Buffardi speaks with parishioners after the service.

Parishioners are greeted on the way in to service and thanked as they exit.

Israel Buffardi speaks with Minister Lee Bluemel, Assistant Minister of Faith Formation Hillary Collins-Gilpatrick and her dog, Smoky, on the altar at North Andover Unitarian Universalist Church.
Buffardi meets with the Rev. Lee Bluemel, M.Div. ’94 (left), assistant minister of faith formation, Hillary Collins-Gilpatrick, M.Div. ’14, and her dog, Smoky Joe.
The congregation of North Andover Unitarian Universalist holds a "Sacred Supper" outside the church.
Congregants eat, light candles at a Sacred Supper.
Israel Buffardi at one of the suppers he organizes for the church.

The Sacred Supper is held outside the church beside the North Parish Gardens. Hosted by Buffardi, the group of about 70 parishioners lights candles marking the table space as a time and place of Sabbath.

Israel Buffardi leads a Divinity School tour.
As part of the student group HDS Unitarian Universalist Ministry for Students, Buffardi gives UU walking tours to coming-of-age groups visiting the Boston area, such as this one from Indianapolis. The student group also engages in weekly student-led worship services, organizes community service projects, and hosts social events and retreats.

Later Buffardi assists student tour attendees Cat Patten and Teddy Rayhill as they light a chalice in the Emerson Room in Divinity Hall.

A visitor lights a candle during Israel Buffardi's tour at the Divinity School.
Israel Buffardi outside North Andover Unitarian Universalist Church.
Before heading to the UU Fellowship in Corvallis, Ore., to serve as assistant minister and religious education director, this summer Buffardi and his partner will be soaking up the sun in Italy.