When did the ministry first spark your interest?

"Well I had grown up with everybody else’s expectations. And so when you reach a certain age, you decide whether you own those expectations or you reject them."
  • Transcript


Gomes: Well I had grown up with everybody else’s expectations.  And so when you reach a certain age, you decide whether you own those expectations or you reject them.  And I first rejected them because everybody thought I was going to be a preacher.  I sounded like one.  I looked like one.  I acted like one.  I enjoyed church.  It was fun.  I could memorize vast quantities of scripture.  I could play the part perfectly.  But there was a point where I wondered, “Is this the part I really want to play, or am I simply conforming to everybody’s expectations?”  So when I went off to college, it was with the view in my own mind that I was going to test this, and that I was going to become my own person.  I was not going to be the fair-haired boy who went off to college and became what everybody thought he was going to be – the great preacher.  So when I went off to Bates, I did not major in religion.  I played the organ, which is a wonderfully godless vocation.  You could be in church and not lead anything.  And I thought I was so smart because I was quicker than most of the poor, plodding preachers I listened to.  And I was what _____ called one of the “cultured despises of religion”.  It was only when I came to Harvard Divinity School – and I only came here on something of a gamble – that I actually saw very bright people whom I respected who were also very devout people.  And I had known bright people who were profane.  And I had known pious people who were not very bright.  And I wanted, above all, to be thought of as a thinking man.  That’s why I majored in history.  That’s why I didn’t hang around the religious types in college.  And it was why I thought I wanted my own world view, which was as a, I think, a reasonably thoughtful historian of sort of my field in college – history.  And I was going to go into the museum world where I could indulge my passion for beautiful things and elegant commentary in a stable world such as the museum.  That was what I really thought I aspired to.  But when I came to Harvard, I found that there was more religion in me than I had imagined.  Harvard was . . .  I may be the first and only graduate of Harvard Divinity School who ever found religion here; but it was a great moment for me.  It was the place where the two parts of my life – my mind and my heart – came together.  So I shall always be grateful to Harvard for that.  But I think it was here that it was clear to me that this was one of the few things that I was probably good at.  It was one of the few things that presented both a joy and a challenge to me.  And I didn’t have to be everybody’s image of what a preacher was.  I could be my own image of what a preacher was.  And I have been a singular person.  I think most people who reflect on me and on the ministry would have a very hard time trying to find exactly where I fit in the whole system.  And I’m frankly . . . I’m rejoiced in confounding people’s expectations and their experiences.

I like to think of myself as a thinking believer.  My mind is not a hole.  My mind is an interesting place – reasonably well furnished – and it ranges up and down a whole host of avenues.  But I continue to hold fast to the faith in which I was brought up.  And I like to present it as an interesting challenge to people who are smarter than I am.  That’s the fun of being the Harvard preacher.  I preach to people who are infinitely smarter than I am.  I know more than they do, but they are smarter than I am.  And that is great fun – trying to take them as far as you can before they overtake you.