Unlike most Harvard divinity School students, the Rev. Randy Davis was never able to attend services in Andover Chapel.
Davis, a 1989 graduate, is handicapped, and for most of the 80-odd years of the Andover Chapel's history, the building has been inaccessible to people with physical disabilities.
Recently, however, the Divinity School made more than $750,000 worth of changes, including the addition of an elevator, to make the graduate school's buildings more accessible to people with physical disabilities, according to HDS Dean Donald Thiemann.
"So this is the chapel...It's nice to be here," Davis told an audience of faculty and students last night in a jammed Andover Chapel. The rededication ceremony was the first public worship service held on the building's second floor since the changes were made.
Davis, who had not seen the chapel until the elevator was installed, led the fight to make the building accessible for physically disabled people. Leaning on a podium to steady himself, he said that the renovations were "one of the few times that a Harvard graduate school has made a systematic effort to take advantage of the capabilities of those with disabilities."
"To fully grasp the significance," said Davis, referring to the 25 feet the elevator travelled in bringing him to the service, "is to enter into a whole new world."
Davis, who works as the director of governmental relations for the Independence Center of Northern Virginia, said that 43 million Americans are disabled. "All of you are able to join us," he said. "Many of you will."
Divinity School officials called last night's service a "rededication." For the past two years, the school held worship service in community rooms on Andover's first floor which was made accessible to the handicapped in 1986.
"We decided worship could not be communal if we excluded those who were not able to climb the old stairs," Thiemann said at the service. "Now that we have made the space accessible, we must work together to make this a place of our life together."
Speakers frequently mentioned the importance of including all human beings, regardless of their religion, ethnic group, and physical capabilities, in the chapel and at HDS at large. Worshippers joined together to sing the hymn "All Creatures of the Earth and Sky" after prayers.
Theimann told the crowd that the sanctuary will be "a sign of hope and a center for the building of an inclusive community."
Chaplain Krister Stendahl, former Divinity School dean and bishop of Stockholm, said that the institution did not realize how much had to be changed to make the graduate school accessible to handicapped people.
"Once you work harder on the access question," Stendahl said in an interview, "you find out how hard it really is."
Students and faculty said they were pleased to worship in the previously unused space.
"It's great to see people in it," said Gloria J. Korsman, a student on the school's worship committee. "It moves from being a museum piece to actively being used."