The 200 year old New Haven, Connecticut school celebrated its first-ever non-Christian service celebrating Earth Day.
Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut, a 200 year old theological school, celebrated Earth Day on Friday in a different way. On April 22, 80 students gathered outside the university's Marquand Chapel for the school's first official non-Christian service in its history, featuring non-denominational prayers.
"There aren't many spaces where people who fall outside a very particular Protestant lens can worship authentically at Yale Divinity School," Tasha Brownfield, a non-Christian student who led the event, told Yale Daily News. "So for my colleagues and myself, I decided to make a space where people could worship authentically and include Black Theology, Indigenous ecology, some southern charm that separated from the elitism of the institution to something that's really embodied and grounded within this space."
Brownfield described the service as "Indigenous- and Black ecology-based with a sprinkle of cosmology and Pantheistic mysticism." Pantheistic mysticism is described as a religious practice that Brownfield is trying to establish and curate herself.
According to the Christian Post, the non-Christian service event featured an opening speech from Brownfield that included a "land acknowledgment" that urged attendees to "honor and respect the enduring relationships that exist between Native peoples and their land."
Attendees also engaged in a chalice lighting ceremony under the Unitarian Universalist tradition, as well as a prayer to the Hindu fertility god Prithivi, who Brownfield described as the religion's personification of Earth. Meanwhile, another student named Nai Garard gave a speech on "Black Ecology," which discussed how fighting back against racialized aspects of climate change may be a means toward black liberation.
Meredith Barges remarked that the event "brought together the most eclectic, wide ranging set of voices and participation that I've ever seen," describing it as "the most joyful thing to see all the different people and perspectives blended together and speaking to each other in this joint conversation about the Earth."
Yale Divinity School was founded in 1822 and had hosted Earth Day activities for more than 10 years now. However, Sunday's event was the first time the school hosted a non-Christian service. According to its website, the school is committed "to train leaders for church and society given its ecumenical and international character, engagement with music and the arts, and commitment to social justice."
Yale Divinity School has not been afraid to include other ideologies apart from orthodox Christian teaching. In 2008, it introduced a course titled "Christian Theology and Harry Potter," which featured discussions on the popular book and film series to examine Christian themes like sin, evil, and resurrection. In 2016, a Yale Divinity School spokesperson encouraged Christians not to vote for then-Republican presidential aspirant Donald Trump and instead follow Jesus' command to love him just as He teaches people to "love your enemies."
Yale Divinity School is not the only centuries-old theological institution to hold a celebration for Earth Day. In fact, the 200 year old Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts also held a similar celebration called "Gathering Light," which featured musical and video performances.