Reverend Peter J. Gomes’ absence from Memorial Church feels oddly incongruous, as though a row of pews or the central altar were missing—after 40 years of service to Harvard University, he is an integral leader and loved presence here—but his colleagues and congregation are committed to ensuring that daily routines proceed as usual.
Gomes was hospitalized in early December after suffering from a stroke, but he has encouraged the Church to continue as normal without him, according to Christian M. Lane, assistant University organist and choirmaster.
“The church continues to thrive,” said Lane. “I think what he wants us to do—and what we are striving to do—is continue on with business as usual. He sets a tone for the church, but the church is not dependent on him solely.”
According to Associate Minister Wendel W. Meyer, Memorial Church has flourished under Gomes’ leadership and colleagues are determined to “keep the wheel going.”
“There’s not much going on that’s different,” said Meyer. “We have an absolutely wonderful and crackerjack staff.”
Gomes is tentatively scheduled to return to Memorial Church to preach at Easter. In the meantime, he has helped compile a list of visiting preachers for the spring.
“History of Harvard and Its Presidents,” the class Gomes was planning to co-teach at the Harvard Divinity School with Stephen P. Shoemaker, has seen an almost 50 percent cut in enrollment this spring.
Shoemaker attributed this to the absence of the “Gomes panache,” as well as a general assumption that the class would be canceled.
Although Shoemaker plans to continue teaching the course much as he has in the past, he acknowledged that Gomes has an intangible quality that attracts students and is largely informed by his intimate knowledge of Harvard’s past.
“Large shoes to fill with small feet is the idea here,” said Shoemaker. “It’s always been interesting to me that when Professor Gomes departs, it usually takes five or six people to fill his spot. In a way, he’s one of the last 19th-century characters left on campus. He’s one of the few around that brings to life that flair, that sense of character. He gets away with things that nobody can get away with.”
His dynamic presence is on the minds of his colleagues at Memorial Church as well.
“What can you say about a personality the size and scope of Peter Gomes’? In some ways, he is an icon for Harvard,” Meyer said, adding that the minister has been not only a nationally respected figure, but also a source of support for Harvard alumni and undergraduates.
“To greet Professor Gomes at the door at Sunday service, at the end of the service, is a really great moment,” said Lane. “He can establish that connection with people. I think we all look forward to having that back.”
—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at email@example.com.
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