Peter Gomes is an American Baptist minister who has served in The Memorial Church at Harvard University since 1970. Gomes is also the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and is the Pusey Minister in The Memorial Church. Gomes is commonly regarded as one of the most distinguished preachers in America. He was named Clergy of the Year in 1998 by Religion in American Life and offered prayers in the inaugurations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.
Educated at Bates College and the Harvard Divinity School, Revered Gomes alsoholds thirty-six honorary degrees. He is the author of numerous books on the Bible, including the national best-sellers TheGood Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart and Sermons:Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living.
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.