Over the entire course of my first year at HDS, I would say that the Multireligious Service of Thanksgiving was the event that captured HDS in a nutshell. Yes, the invocations, readings, and benedictions from varied religious and spiritual traditions contributed to that feel of HDS—a reading from the Lotus Sutra followed immediately by one from the Qur’an, a benediction from the Humanist tradition followed by a prayer by Thomas Merton. HDS is a place where people of multiple traditions not only exist alongside each other, but also interact with one another on a regular basis. But those varied readings alone were not what made the service seem exquisitely HDS. It was also many other, perhaps less obvious things—like the streamers.
Yes, you heard me right. Streamers. Beautiful multicolored streamers on long poles, wonderfully twirled by Shelley Brown and Leah Rumsey, both MDiv ’14, as the graduates processed up the aisle of Memorial Church to “Highland Cathedral,” played by Matthias Giles, MTS ’14, on the bagpipes. Yes, again, you heard me right. Bagpipes. And Matthias also played a recorder solo, accompanied by Harry Huff on piano.
These are the things that filled the space of Memorial Church with the unique feel of HDS—quirky, heartfelt, wonderful things. The HDS class of 2014 is full of immensely talented individuals who have contributed those talents time and again to the community over the course of their time here, and during the service we got one last hurrah from many of them. In addition to Matthias playing both the bagpipes and the recorder, Zach Kerzee and Hillary Collins-Gilpatrick, both MDiv ’14, sang a call-and-response “Song for the Divine Mother of the Universe,” Willie Bodrick, MDiv ’14, sang “A Change is Gonna Come,” a selection of students sang “Light of the World” from Godspell, Zach joined Andrew Porter, also MDiv ’14, to sing Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem,” and Nicholas Hayes, MDiv ’14 played a fantastic rendition of “Festival Toccata” on the organ for the recessional. I feel pretty confident saying that there has never before been a service with this exact music program, and that there never will be again. The musical pieces presented were included because they were important to those participating in the service. To me, these beautiful moments, these passionate contributions from members of the community, are what makes HDS what it is. People here are enthusiastic about many things, and this shines through in how they interact with each other and with the world around them.
What a meaningful way to send our graduates off, by allowing them to participate in the community through their passions one more time, to allow them to read and sing and play the things that matter most to them. The “thanksgiving” in the title of the service seems to serve so many purposes: it is for us to say thank you for the graduates and all they’ve done, and for them to say thank you to HDS for all it has allowed them to do, to say thank you to each other and other students and faculty and staff for allowing them to grow and learn and develop.
I personally am thankful to everyone who graduated for helping to create this wonderful space, for welcoming new students with enthusiastic open arms, for cultivating an amazing place where it doesn’t seem strange to come together in a church with streamers and songs and readings from so many different traditions to celebrate the things that people find important, not least of which is this place and how much it allows you to embrace the things you are passionate about. Next year, the service might look complete different, since the class of 2015 surely has different passions to share with the community. But I do know two things: it will be great, and there will be streamers. Some traditions we just don’t mess with!