Why We Gather: Noon Service

by Kat Woodard, MDiv ’25

Editor’s Note: Kat Woodard, MDiv ’25, shares her personal experience with one of HDS’ most long-standing traditions, Noon Service. Noon Service presents a weekly opportunity for the HDS community to gather together for religious practice and reflection across many traditions.

Last week, as I walked out of the front doors of Swartz Hall after my class, I was engulfed in the best of the fall foliage that Cambridge has to offer. Hoping to stretch out my time in the sea of red, orange, and gold leaves, I decided to take the long way home and to call my mom as I walked. I haven’t been able to see my mom since I moved here in August from our home in Tennessee, so she was eager to know more about what my new life as a HDS student was like.  

“Are you making friends? How is the weather? What is the community like at HDS?” my mother asked me in rapid fire succession.  

After I assured her that I have met some wonderful folks and that I have a winter coat warm enough to brave the coming season, I stood in silence contemplating my mother’s third question. How could I describe the HDS community to someone who’s never seen what we do here in action?  

I paused for another moment, thinking of the best way to concisely articulate all the different ways community manifests itself at HDS.  

“There’s so many different events happening and student groups meeting at all times here,” I told her, “So I think community looks really different for everyone. It’s truly what you make of it … But if you want to know what my community life is like at HDS, then I would point you towards Noon Service.”    

Over the next fifteen minutes, I looped around my block walking in circles, trying to dispel everything that I’ve learned about Noon Service in the few months I’ve been attending. I began by telling her about the first Noon Service I attended: I had been on campus for only a few days, and I felt inundated with all the new information I was absorbing at once. I desperately needed a moment to rest and reflect, and I found that in Noon Service. When the clock struck noon on that first Wednesday, HDS students, faculty, and staff migrated onto the front lawn for the first Noon Service gathering of the year. Students from all sorts of faith traditions (and no tradition) sat side by side in makeshift rows, listening to their Buddhist classmates lead us through a time of meditation and reflection. It was the first time I’d been to a religious service where most of the attendees weren’t a part of the same faith tradition as the service’s leaders. I was deeply moved by my peers’ willingness to engage with the unfamiliar, and it served as a welcome reminder that, at HDS, learning about religion isn’t confined to the classroom. Each Noon Service is hosted by a different HDS-affiliated spiritual group, and the opportunity to experience my friends’ faith traditions firsthand keeps me coming back week after week.  

After I got off the phone with my mother, I felt reaffirmed in my commitment to continue attending Noon Service and to bring the things I’m learning in the classroom into practice outside of the academy exclusively. However, I started to wonder why other students continued to attend noon service on a weekly basis. I wanted to know what motivated my peers to take time out of their busy schedules to convene in the middle of the week for a religious service. So, I decided to ask them exactly that! Below is a compilation of just a few of the responses I’ve collected from students when I asked them “What do you love about Noon Service? Why do you attend?”  

Miriam Israel, first-year MTS: It’s nice to pause in the middle of the week and not think about schoolwork. It’s a chance to experience the traditions of your fellow students.

Sarah Capers, first-year MDiv: I second everything Miriam said, but to put it in simply in my own words: Worshiping in different ways is very nourishing.

Xavier Sayeed, third-year MDiv: Noon Service is really unique. I still have the program from the first noon service I ever attended, over four years ago at DivEx. It made a big impact on me then, so it’s nice to be a part of leading these services now

Nicole Newell, third-year MDiv: I love gathering with friends and sharing meaningful practices, even if I’ve never encountered them before.

Ro Robinson, first-year MTS: It’s an opportunity to pause in the middle of my week and to learn about traditions that I may or may not be familiar with… And also the food afterwards!

Josh Kurtz, first-year MTS: It’s an opportunity to put the things we’re learning into practice and to engage with traditions outside the classroom. Noon service helps me understand how people are connected to the traditions we’re theorizing here.

Maya Perz Mitzburg, third-year MDiv: This is a ritual of a weekly gathering. It’s a place where I know I’ll always see friends and new potential friends.

Each student I asked shared similar sentiments; most spoke of community, reflection, and an intentional change in pace. Despite being held in by a different religious tradition each week, a sense of familiarity with the rhythms of Noon Service emerges after only a few weeks of attendance. Attendees can likely expect the service to begin with communal reading of Noon Service’s values statement, followed by a short musical performance, and then a brief talk or guided exercise. After the service concludes, members of the HDS community gather together for food and informal conversation. Although Noon Service takes place in all sorts of different venues (such as the HDS lawn, Divinity Hall Chapel, and Preston N. Williams Chapel) throughout the semester, the communal elements students value most remain at the forefront of the service, regardless of location. 

Now, after spending time reflecting and chatting with fellow attendees, I think that if my mother were to ask me about Noon Service again, I’d be able to more concisely describe why we gather. I would tell her that here at HDS, community is built through engaging difference and welcoming one another into the things that drive our passions, and Noon Service is just one example of that. 

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