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Peter Gomes

[From the New Yorker]

Peter Gomes, the Plummer professor of Christian morals and Pusey minister of Memorial Church at Harvard, died yesterday. Any of his fans (and that surely includes anyone who had the pleasure of hearing him preach) will enjoy Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s remembrance of him at the New Yorker blog today.

Gail and I had the good fortune of hearing him preach at my 25th and 30th reunions. For many years, I paid no attention to the quinquennial event, but older friends who went back for number 25 convinced me to do so, and I didn’t regret a moment of it. The unexpected high point was the memorial service for those of our classmates who had died in the preceding five years. Clerical classmates representing a variety of religions did readings, a classmate choir sang, then Reverend Gomes, who had sat rock still through all of this, a minimal presence, rose up, strode to the lectern, and spoke with great eloquence and power. I hardly remember any of his words. What I do remember is how moved I was, all the more as the Memorial Church bell subsequently tolled once for each dead classmate while we silently stood.

I didn’t speak to Reverend Gomes that year, but after the memorial service five years later, Gail and I did chat with him after the service, as he waited at the exit to greet us all. Despite such limited contact, I had no doubt that he was a great man. I am one of the thousands who will miss him.

An excerpt from Gates’ remembrance:

Though Gomes claimed to be Baptist, he wore a red robe with a large white bow tied at his neck, vestments that seemed more High Church Anglican. As startling as that was, I was even more startled when he opened his mouth. “My dear friends, it is good to see you, even on this dark and sad occasion,” he began. What took me aback was not the language but the sound. It was as if Cotton Mather had returned from the dead, and in black face at that. No wonder these Negroes at Harvard are so screwed up, I thought as I headed home to Durham following the service; this Negro thinks he’s a Puritan.

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