Church says anti-Israel group used sanctuary to hold unauthorized fake graduation for disciplined Harvard students

'We are dismayed at the lack of awareness and respect for our sacred space.'

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A Church near Harvard University’s campus claims that a pro-Palestine student group held an unauthorized fake graduation for students disciplined in the anti-Israel encampment earlier this month.

According to the Harvard Crimson, Harvard-Epworth Church Pastors Mitch Hay and Barb Lemmel wrote in an email that they didn’t give Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine permission to host a fake graduation, dubbed the “People’s Commencement,” for 13 students who were not allowed to graduate because of their participation in the anti-Israel encampment.

“The protest in the sanctuary was in no way approved by Harvard-Epworth,” the pastors wrote, according to the report.

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The pastors wrote they were “angered” that the event happened in their sanctuary.

“We are dismayed that the church became the locus of a large student protest. We are angered that this overly political message took place in the sanctuary. We are troubled that we were not present to provide in-person leadership, as we are currently in Italy on vacation,” Hay and Lemmel wrote.

While the pastors wrote that the church has a history of hosting “difficult conversations about controversial issues when bounded by mutual respect and listening,” they added that the “nationalistic tone of this demonstration was not in keeping with our values as a house of worship.”

Lea H. Kayali, an organizer with Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine, said during the event that the church was “generously offered” for use by the group.

However, Lemmel told the outlet that they weren’t informed of the “People’s Commencement.”

“We would not have allowed banners to be hung on the altar or flags of any nation to be displayed or waved in the sanctuary,” Lemmel said. “We are dismayed at the lack of awareness and respect for our sacred space.”

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Lemmel said that the space was rented by a student who has previously used the space for a different student organization’s event. Administration at the church said the request was approved with the assumption that the same organization would be using the space.

“Today, however, I’ve received an email from her saying that she did not rent on this group’s behalf,” Lemmel wrote in an email.

Organizers with HOOP told the Harvard Crimson that “the student who made the request to the church made clear that the space was being reserved on behalf of Harvard students and community members who wished to celebrate the 13 seniors being denied their degrees and to mourn the loss of Palestinian lives.”

“The church may have assumed that this student was reserving space on behalf of an organization they have previously reserved space for, although the student did not, at any time, indicate that this was the case,” HOOP wrote.