Brattle Street Requiem

Not long ago, a friend of mine sent me a photograph of St. John’s Memorial Chapel at 99 Brattle Street in Cambridge MA. This is the chapel on the grounds of the Episcopal Divinity School, where Lynne and I both studied, and where I spent a great deal of time in my formation for priesthood. Attached to the pho- tograph was an article announcing that EDS, which stopped granting graduate degrees in June 2017, was leaving Cambridge and moving to New York City. The Episcopal Divinity School Board of Trustees had signed an agreement to pursue an affiliation with Union Theological Seminary. Union was founded in 1836 as a Presbyterian seminary which today “lives out its formative call to service by training people of all faiths and none who are called to the work of social justice in the world.” https://utsnyc.edu

I knew that EDS was undergoing radical change, as it had over previous years. Begun in 1867 as the Episcopal Theological School, it merged with the Philadel- phia Divinity School in 1974 and took the name Episcopal Divinity School. Nancy and I lived there during the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the merger. Even then, there were intense feelings about the merger and still a true sense of loss with the closing and selling of the Philadelphia property. This was especially true of the beautiful St. Andrew’s Chapel, whose stunning cross hung in the EDS library. Now, less than 45 years after that merger, another move and great new changes for the EDS community and alumni are in the works.

The last time I was in Cambridge and on the Episcopal Divinity School campus was autumn of 2004. The entire family went to Boston and Cambridge so Jen- nifer could look at Boston University, and so Nancy and I could show Jennifer and Andrew where I studied and we lived. The weather was perfect, the campus, the city, and Harvard Square were beautiful. Jennifer decided BU was not for her, so the trip was totally worthwhile. As it was early Saturday morning, the only building we could get into, other than the library, was the chapel. The memories were rich and wonderful.

I have been surprised at my feelings regarding the closing of the Cambridge campus. While not as intense as my feelings when the Cathedral of Christ the King in Kalamazoo closed, there were some similarities. In both cases I have been reminded of words written by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Dr. George Carey. In his book The Church in the Marketplace, we, as a church community, are reminded that we do not have a God-given right to exist. The same holds true for cathedrals and seminaries.

The people of the Cathedral of Christ the King now worship in other churches in and around Kalamazoo. The Episcopal Divinity School will evolve into some- thing entirely different than what I experienced 35 years ago. God alone knows what will become of the property at 99 Brattle Street and of St. John’s Memorial Chapel. Perhaps everything will be torn down and much needed housing created on the beautiful eight-acre campus. Perhaps they will simply shutter the chapel, as has been done with the Philadelphia Divinity School Chapel of St. Andrew.

In the end, it is not about where we worship or what tools we use in worship. In the end it is all about how we communicate Jesus and the love of God to the people of the world. And so it is that I feel and acknowledge my sorrow at the closing of my seminary campus, but look forward to discovering new ways in which we carry out the Great Commission recorded in Matthew’s Gospel:

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubt- ed. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16 – 20. May God always bless and keep you.

With deepest affection,
Fr. David