New Semester, New Minister, New Questions

President Faust welcomes new Pusey Minister Jonathan L. Walton to Harvard’s Memorial Church.

President Faust (standing at upper right, during the singing of Hymn 27) spoke at the first Morning Prayers of the new academic year.

Speaking at the first Morning Prayers service of the new semester, her regular custom, President Drew Faust used the occasion to welcome Jonathan L. Walton, Plummer professor of Christian morals, as the new Pusey Minister of the Memorial Church. Faust appointed Walton to the position last April, effective as of July 1. He succeeded the late Peter J. Gomes, who died in 2011.

Speaking of “the promise of fall,” Faust put the changing of the seasons in educational terms, a resonant theme for her own life’s work: “new pencils, new notebooks, new classes, new syllabi filled with menus describing feasts of learning ahead, new teachers, new students, the lure of new knowledge, new understanding. That rhythm of new beginnings, with its implicit assurance of annually and infinitely renewed wonder, is, I am sure, one reason I never left universities—making them not just a launching pad but my life.”

Turning to Walton’s new role, she said it provided “the occasion for a few observations about how we, as a secular university, dedicated to the power of reason and rational inquiry, might think about what we have to learn from a new Pusey Minister.” Faust cited a sentence from Benjamin Elijah Mays (the late minister and president of Morehouse College—Walton’s undergraduate alma mater), that Walton has posted on his personal website: “The love of God and the love of humanity are indeed one love.”

“Many here and elsewhere,” Faust said, “might not use the word God, but all of us know that our best moments come when we reach beyond the present—when we stretch beyond the immediate and instrumental and beyond our very talented and dedicated selves, when we ask about our connections both to larger purposes and to human communities that can give our work a meaning we can never find alone.” In the immediate environs, she spoke about universities encouraging those engaged with them “to be part of this extraordinary community in which we are all teachers and learners and connect the work of that community to the wider world in which knowledge can serve as such a powerful force for human betterment.”

She concluded by hoping that the new Pusey minister might “inspire us and aid us to look up and look across—to reach beyond our individual talents, ambitions, and achievements—to be at once wondering and humble in face of mystery—and open and generous in a community of belonging that will strengthen us all.”

For his part, Walton chose as his reading for the lesson from the Bible Isaiah 48:6-8 (“I make you hear new things, hidden things that you have not known”).

The 15-minute Morning Prayers—with a musical introduction, a choral anthem, a reading from Scriptures, a brief address, a hymn, and prayers—proceeds in a highly structured, comfortingly familiar way. Yet hanging over the occasion this year was the news of last Thursday, August 30, that more than 100 undergraduates were being investigated for violating the rules governing the conduct of a final exam last spring. That highlights moral and ethical issues a new spiritual leader might be called upon to explore with the community as it examines “hidden things” and confronts disquieting, even dismaying, questions “beyond the immediate and instrumental.”

Update 9-4-2012, 2:10 p.m. President Faust's full text and another photograph from Morning Prayers have now been posted here.

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