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.”
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.
“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.”