|Rev. Peter Gomes: Accidental gay advocate|
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If during your tenure as a student at Harvard you did not encounter the Reverend Peter J. Gomes, you have not had the quintessential Harvard experience.
For undergraduates, if they were paying attention, Gomes bookended their four-year experience at Harvard with his welcoming remarks during orientation and his baccalaureate address at graduation.
In between those years, undergraduates had ample opportunities to partake in Gomes’ weekly teas at Sparks House, the university’s parsonage, to hear his rich melodic baritone voice most Sunday mornings preaching at Memorial Church in the Yard, or to enroll in his popular courses: Religion 42: “The Christian Bible and its Interpretation,” which I had the privilege to be his head teaching fellow for several years, and Religion 1513: “History of Harvard and its Presidents.”
During the wee hours of the morning this past Tuesday when I received a phone call from a reporter at WBUR, the voice on the other end said “Hello and Good Morning Rev. Monroe. I would like to speak with you before our 8 a.m “Morning Edition” Show about the passing of Rev. Gomes. I’m very sorry if you’re not aware of his passing. I want to talk with you about his legacy and impact in your life and Harvard’s,” I dropped the phone in despair.
For forty-two years Gomes had been a fixture at Harvard. As an ordained Baptist minister Gomes was the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at the School of Divinity and the Pusey Minister of Memorial Church, joining the faculty in 1974 and overseeing Memorial Church for thirty-five years.
As a proud Republican who offered prayers at the inaugurations of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, Gomes became a Democrat when his former student, Deval Patrick, won as Massachusetts’ first black governor, offering prayers at Deval’s first inauguration in 2007.
Taunted by his grade school peers as “Peter the Repeater” for being held back in the second grade, Gomes became one of the worlds internationally known preacher, scholar, and theologian with a bachelor’s degree from Bates College, a master’s of divinity degree from Harvard, a bevy of honorary doctorates from around the world, and with the Gomes Lectureship at the University of Cambridge in England named after him.