UPDATED: more stories below
Prayers ascending for Peter Gomes who died Monday night.
The Rev. Dr Peter J. Gomes, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard University, 1942-2011. Rest in peace and rise in glory.
Remembrances and reflections will follow in coming days.
UPDATE: From the Harvard Crimson:
The Reverend Peter J. Gomes, who oversaw the Memorial Church for the past three and half decades, died Monday evening after suffering a brain aneurysm and heart attack, according to staff at the Harvard University Choir and an email distributed to members of the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship List. He was 68.
After suffering a stroke this past December, Gomes was hospitalized at Massachusetts General Hospital. He was later moved to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston.
In 2009, Gomes received a pacemaker after stumbling as a result of dizziness during a speaking appearance at St. Lawrence University in New York.
Friends reported as recently as this January that Gomes was recovering and in good condition. They said that he hoped to return to Harvard to deliver the Easter sermon at Memorial Church.
UPDATE 2: From the Boston Globe:
The Rev. Peter J. Gomes, who was known internationally as Harvard’s pastor and was just as pleased to call himself a son of Plymouth, died Monday evening at Massachusetts General Hospital. He had suffered a stroke in early December.
At 68, he had divided his time and identity between a 1799 house in his hometown and Sparks House, the 19th-century residence reserved for the leader of Memorial Church in Harvard Yard.
Collecting a bevy of titles during 42 years of ministry, the Rev. Gomes cut an imposing figure at Harvard and was unusual in the world of religion, as memorable for his groundbreaking roles as he was for his aristocratic presence and a preaching style that set him apart from contemporaries.
He was the first black minister of Memorial Church and the first pastor of that church to participate in a US president’s inauguration. The Rev. Gomes also was the only gay, black, Republican, Baptist preacher most people would ever meet. Descended from slaves, he nonetheless delighted in serving as trustee emeritus of the Pilgrim Society and celebrating his hometown’s Mayflower history, a distinctly white Anglo-Saxon Protestant tradition.
From Faith and Leadership, Peter the Golden-Tongued:
I found God at Harvard in Sunday School, in prayer circles, and at the feet of Peter J. Gomes, who died yesterday.
I came to Harvard in the 1990s from Alabama. A bitter battle had torn apart my own denomination. I wanted nothing to do with church people. But I was urged to try Memorial Church. And there I found grace, love, and Christian witness. Peter deeply believed in Jesus and prayer, and helped make it safe for me to do so as well.
The turning point for me was a shocking sermon he preached in 1991, “The Courage to Remember,” where an African-American minister from Harvard railed against Harvard’s Memorial Hall because it only commemorated Union dead from the Civil War, not the Confederates. “Humanity transcends the sides and there are no victors ultimately; there are only those to be commended to God.”
Box Turtle Bulletin writes:
And it was demystifying the Bible and shaking up Christianity’s comfortable assumptions that consumed the past few decades of his life. Although a life-long Republican of the Massachusetts variety (until a recent registration change to support Deval Patrick), he viewed Jesus as a social revolutionary whose gospel would not be much welcomed in today’s established Christianity and deplored the way in which Scriptural literalism could be text proofed to support just about any social injustice.
In 1991 Gomes came out as gay, (NY Times)
Then, in 1991, he appeared before an angry crowd of students, faculty members and administrators protesting homophobic articles in a conservative campus magazine whose distribution had led to a spate of harassment and slurs against gay men and lesbians on campus. Mr. Gomes, putting his reputation and career on the line, announced that he was “a Christian who happens as well to be gay.”
When the cheers faded, there were expressions of surprise from the Establishment, and a few calls for his resignation, which were ignored. The announcement changed little in Mr. Gomes’s private life; he had never married and said he was celibate by choice. But it was a turning point for him professionally.
“I now have an unambiguous vocation — a mission — to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia,” he told The Washington Post months later. “I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the ‘religious case’ against gays.”
From Harvard Gazette:
“We are deeply saddened by this loss,” said Harvard President Drew Faust. “Peter Gomes was an original. For 40 years, he has served Harvard as a teacher in the fullest sense — a scholar, a mentor, one of the great preachers of our generation, and a living symbol of courage and conviction. Through his wisdom and appreciation of the richness of the human spirit Reverend Gomes has left an indelible mark on the institution he served with unmatched devotion and creativity. He will be sorely missed.”
“No one epitomizes all that is good about Harvard more than Peter J. Gomes,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard’s Alphonse Fletcher University Professor. The pair met in 1991 when Gomes was part of a recruiting committee that helped to bring Gates to the University. Gates quipped it was “love at first sight,” and said Gomes had been a loyal friend and adviser for 20 years.
“He was one of the nation’s truly great preachers and one of Harvard’s truly great scholars,” said Gates, who directs Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. Gates also praised Gomes for his expertise on the history both of Christianity and of Harvard University and for his “keen storytelling capacity.”
“Peter has been a powerful presence in the University for more than four decades,” said William Graham, dean of Harvard Divinity School, who first met Gomes at Harvard in 1966.