Here's a terrific Charlie Rose interview with Peter Gomes. On this day of Peter's death, it's interesting to hear how he describes his life's work, and which Scripture he wants on his tombstone, but also to listen to him argue that it's possible to reconcile evolution and the Bible, and pose the question that he believes we Christians should be asking ourselves.
In the interview he also argues for the good bits of St Augustine and John Calvin, and discusses homophobia among people of good will (who believe they are doing the right).
Peter was a handsome young man when he arrived at Harvard in 1970. I met him in 1975 when he was my "freshman advisor". Something I wrote (? but I had just turned 17 so I can guess that it was unformed) had made the Freshman Dean's office decide to find me an advisor who would not think my faith was bonkers.
When I arrived for my first appointment with Peter I found his outer office occupied by a woman pacing back and forth, with her arms crossed at her waist. She explained to me that she was possessed by a demon. Peter's secretary explained that he would reschedule our meeting. At WHRB even some of the non-Christian members appreciated Peter's sermons, and we organized a "Gomes for Pope" campaign in 1978 (the year of the two papal conclaves). When he came out as gay (although celibate) in 1991, in response to an anti-gay issue of a college publication, some of us changed our slogan to Gomes for Pope: Now More Than Ever.
I admired the way that although Peter was gay, it was not the most interesting thing about him. An interesting non-spiritual biographical detail is that he grew up in Plymouth (aka Plimouth) Massachusetts, and for a time as a young man (high school or college student) worked in the town library. One of his primary responsibilities was to answer letters from (white) people writing to find out whether they were related to anyone who came to the original colony on the ship Mayflower, or rather, whether a person who had the same name as an ancestor of theirs had had any kids. Peter admitted to having experienced a touch of unholy glee, especially when the letters were high-handed, in replying that so-and-so "had no known issue."
Over the years I have been privileged to hear Peter preach many times, and most of his sermons were tactically astute and prophetic and eloquent, all at the same time. (Fortunately we still have the ten books of them to enjoy and be challenged by.) During the tumultuous school year of 2001-02 I was, for medical reasons, able to attend Memorial Church almost every Sunday, usually sitting in my favourite pew next to the plaque for the four Germans (an opportunity to recall my Latin). I will never forget the sermon he preached on September 23rd, 2001. Bishop J S Spong was the guest preacher on the first Sunday after the towers fell (and his message was so much not what I needed to hear that a good friend, who had heard it on the radio, called as soon as I had left the church to ask whether I was okay; I'll write about that another time)...but in the sermon linked above Peter spoke for me and for so many others...
One evening in the late seventies, Peter was sitting beside a roaring fire with John Duff, Nancy Dart, and Mark Roberts, and my name came up (John told me later). And Peter told the others about how every time he saw me in the Yard I would have my coat open and flapping, and my muffler on the outside of the coat, as a Southern Californian who hadn't figured out how to dress for cold weather. (It was years before I figured out the muffler thing, and the first coat I bought "back there" wasn't right either - not even waterproof.) Over the years I have many times planned to write and thank Peter for his spiritual direction and catch him up with the many twists and turns my spiritual life has taken. Now that goes on the list of things I took too long to get around to.
Peter, I give thanks to God for your life and ministry. As Thomas More said (in Robert Bolt's play), He will not refuse one who is so blithe to go to Him.