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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, April 17, 2024

University Chaplaincy welcomes President Kumar in celebration of faith, the arts

Tufts’ faith-based communities welcomed the new president with a mix of religious joy and art.


Goddard Chapel is pictured on May 10.

In honor of the inauguration of University President Sunil Kumar, the University Chaplaincy held a multifaith celebration on Oct. 4 in Goddard Chapel. The event included expressions of hospitality from each of the diverse faiths represented by the University Chaplaincy, musical performances from a capella groups Ladies of Essence and Shir Appeal and an art installation of welcoming messages from the Tufts community. 

The ceremony began with a procession of the chaplains into the chapel, accompanied by Suzanne Cartrienne on the organ. Her prelude included “The Bells” (1899) by William Byrd, “Prelude and Fugue in G Major” (1829) by Johann Sebastian Bach and “Wondrous Love: Five Variations for Organ” (1992) by Daniel Pinkham. The third piece was a nod to Tufts’ Universalist roots, as Pinkham served as the music director for King’s Chapel in Boston, a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association, from 1956 to 2000. 

Hindu Chaplain Dr. Preeta Banerjee and junior Ti Wimmer, president of the Hindu Students Association, introduced the celebration by lighting incense and ringing a bell for good tidings and new beginnings. They also acknowledged the land of the Massachusett tribe that Tufts was built upon and expressed sorrow for injustices yet to be repaired. 

Ladies of Essence, Tufts’ all-femme identifying a capella group specializing in music from the African Diaspora, performed a rhythmic “Gospel Medley” made up of songs expressing gratitude. It was followed by “I Feel,” which was introduced as a song illustrating new beginnings. For this reason, “I Feel” is typically the first song that new members of the group learn upon joining.

University Chaplain Reverend Elyse Nelson Winger then explained the art installation: each member of the Tufts Community in attendance wrote words of welcome on translucent oak leaves to create a welcome arch. The arch mirrors a stained glass window at the chapel. The design on this window was modeled after a verse in the Bible, which calls those who show gratitude to God “oaks of righteousness.” Isaiah 61:3. Reverend Winger reflected on the Universalist foundation of Tufts laid by Charles Tufts and Sylvanus Packard, who she referred to as “theological rebels of their day,” and emphasized how Tufts began as a unique space for religious and philosophical diversity, which it continues to be in the present.

Following this was a series of hospitality offerings to President Kumar from the chaplains and student leaders of the many faith communities at Tufts. Jewish Chaplain Rabbi Naftali Brawer remarked on the coincidence of the inauguration occuring at the same time as the Jewish holiday Sukkot, a time of hospitality and gathering. The Hebrew blessing “Shalom Rav” was sung by junior Liana Smolover-Bord and senior Jake Blum, who also played the guitar. The Catholic, Humanist and Buddhist Chaplaincies followed in offering their own prayers and gifts to President Kumar.

Shir Appeal, Tufts’ Jewish mixed-gender a cappella group, performed a lively rendition of “Little of Your Love” (2017) by HAIM, a pop rock group composed of three Jewish sisters. The arrangement by junior Stephanie Bromberg included the Hebrew song “Shir La’ahava,” which has lyrics promoting unity, togetherness and love. 

Those in attendance submitted their words and phrases of welcome on their oak leaves for the assembly of the community art installation. Muslim Chaplain Najiba Akbar and junior Ayat Walid of the Muslim Students Association then welcomed President Kumar. Walid spoke about her Indigenous family in Morocco and her experience with food as a symbol of hospitality, particularly in terms of a traditional dish known as tajine. Akbar then described the gatherings of food — including tajine — that take place at the Muslim House, and extended an invitation to President Kumar.

After being introduced with a blessing and dove-embroidered stole symbolizing peace by the Protestant Chaplaincy, President Kumar addressed the gathering. He humbly joked in response to the offerings presented to him: “I have nothing to give back to you." Kumar quoted the Hindu scripture as well as the Bible, advising his audience that “the truth will set you free.” John 8:32.