In a ceremony punctuated by musical performances and speeches, invited students attended the ribbon cutting and a formal dinner in the new “student oasis,” the 2,500 square foot centerpiece of the revamped basement. The downstairs area also contains two newly designed conference rooms and a kitchen for student use.
“This is an all-student event,” said Jonathan L. Walton, Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church. “Just like the actual renovation project itself, we wanted to privilege students, so we wanted to start off our first shebang with the student population.”
According to Walton, the Memorial Church renovations focused on improving accessibility for the student body. The refurbished kitchen is now compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and new accessibility ramps run to both entrances of the Church.
“Now, students, everybody in the community, can enter through the same door together,” said Walton.
“We are made for everybody,” Walton added. “Everyone at Harvard may not belong to the Memorial Church, but the Memorial Church belongs to everyone at Harvard.”
Technical improvements to the Church include adding air conditioning as well as a heating and ventilation system. On the first floor of the church, the pews were removed and refurbished and the floors refinished, said Adrienne Yapo, Creative and Communications Lead for Memorial Church.
The bulk of renovations took place in the basement area, which Walton said he hopes will provide a collaborative social space for students. According to Harrison Phelps ‘18, who attended the reopening, the Memorial Church staff envisions the “student oasis” as “an area where students in the larger Harvard student body can get to know each other better.”
“That’s one of the things that Harvard lacks—social spaces,” Phelps said.
The “student oasis” will be open for all students to hold meetings, cook, and study between classes, Walton said. “We are a space of grace at the center of Harvard Yard. We appreciate you as you are, and for that reason we wanted to create a space of radical hospitality,” Walton said.
The grand opening’s theme was “Mem Church Moments,” emphasizing role of students in creating the future of Memorial Church. Evening activities included an interactive photo display and conversations about students’ memories and hopes for the future.
“Mem Church moments are not just about the past, they’re not about tonight, but we are literally writing our future of the Memorial Church, beginning right now,” said Walton.
Several members of student groups that perform, practice, and meet at Memorial Church said its reopening was a welcome change after months of gathering at alternative locations.
“It’s really nice to be back,” said Micah Walter, a graduate student who attended the event. “It’s nice to have a home.”
—Staff writer Jordan E. Virtue can be reached at email@example.com.