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Gomes, Peter(1942–) - Minister, educator, Chronology

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Harvard University’s professor of Christian Morals and minister to its Memorial Church, Peter J. Gomes presents to his students and readers an engaging and accessible look at biblical scholarship. As a Christian who happens also to be gay, Gomes has published two books and a collection of sermons exploring biblical perspectives on issues such as slavery, racism, homosexuality, and sexism. Gomes’s ability to get to the heart of an issue with clarity and honesty appeals to a wide audience which includes non-church goers. His success as a university professor is heightened by the fact that his books reach the bestseller lists. Gomes’s eloquent and scholarly sermons earned him a place among the top seven U.S. preachers in 1979 and the opportunity to participate in inaugural ceremonies for two U.S. presidents.

As the only son of Peter Lobo and Orissa Josephine White Gomes, Peter John Gomes was indulged by attentive parents. Gomes’s father Peter Lobo was born in Cape Verde Island in 1908 and immigrated to the United States in the 1920s. After settling in Plymouth, Massachusetts, he worked his way up the ranks to superintendent in the local cranberry bogs. Versed in several languages, the elder Gomes willingly helped other immigrants in the area to compose letters to send home. Orison Josephine was born on Boston’s wealthy Beacon Hill in 1901. She was one of nine children and the daughter of Jacob Merrit Pedford White, a well-known Baptist minister in the area. She graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music and was the first African American woman to work in the Massachusetts State House as a clerk. Her family could be traced back to before the Civil War. Her mother and many of their family had escaped to the North via the Underground Railroad. Known as free-issue Negroes, the family faced situations of emancipation that were both disruptive and benevolent.

With the birth of their son, Peter John, on May 22, 1942, Peter Lobo and Orissa Joseph White Gomes set about to educate him well beyond the public school system. He was given music lessons and had classical literature read to him nightly by his mother. Outings to places of interest were included in his education. His parents prepared him to have a good life, recognizing that diverse life experiences and an openness to others were essential.

It was the experience of failing the second grade that motivated Gomes to excel. He became an exceptional student. He writes in his book The Good Life that this experience was one which made him something of an ambitious overachiever. He recognizes it as a valuable lesson in the ongoing search for the good life. Church was also an important part of Gomes’s early years. As a young boy, he attended a Baptist church in Plymouth and was active in church programs to the point of preaching his own private sermons. At twelve years of age he preached his first sermon in a basement pulpit constructed of cranberry boxes. Gomes later compared the excitement of the pulpit to the unleashed freedom that most African American youth might associate with the basketball court. In the eleventh grade, Gomes wrote the entry on Plymouth, Massachusetts for the 1960 American Encyclopedia and also worked as a page for the public library, where he was responsible for the department of genealogy and research in some of New England’s finest homes. These activities foreshadowed his later decision to become a scholar and a clergyman. In 1961, Gomes graduated from Plymouth High School with hopes of attending Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. When this did not work out, he successfully enrolled in Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. Bowdoin College in later years gave Gomes an honorary degree. The experiences provided by his parents made it possible for him to pay his way through college by working as an organist and choirmaster at the first Congregational Church in Lewiston and at the Pilgrim Hall museum in Plymouth in the summers. He was awarded the Theodore Presser Scholarship in music for the entire four years of college.

As a sophomore at Bates College, Gomes like many students of the 1960s had reservations about religion. He took Religion 101, with John A. T. Robinson. Thanks to Robinson’s instruction and an approach that enlightened and did not diminish the questions of the college sophomore, Gomes was rescued from religion of doubt. He graduated from college in 1965 and determined that history was his chosen subject. He planned to become the first curator of American Decorative Arts at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Before he executed his plan, though, he was persuaded to spend a year at Harvard Divinity School. If this year did not peak his interest, he would move on to his original plan as curator. After a year, Gomes decided to stay, and three years later in 1968 he earned his bachelor’s of divinity degree.

Gomes was an active member of the university community because he was the chair of the Worship and Publications committee and served as proctor of Divinity Hall. He also won the Harvard preaching prize. Gomes was ordained to the ministry of the American Baptist Church in 1968 before he accepted an offer to teach history at Tuskegee in Alabama. Tuskegee, a predominately African American college in the Deep South, offered a more intense cultural experience for Gomes than life in Massachusetts. For the first time African American people were the majority. Gomes commented once in an interview for the New Yorker : “I saw more black people in my first half hour at Tuskegee than I had ever seen in my entire life.” As well as teaching history, Gomes directed the Freshman Experimental Program and assisted in the institute chapel. He used his musical talent as choirmaster for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Tuskegee.

In 1970 he returned to Harvard and was appointed assistant minister of Harvard’s Memorial Church. His commitment to service was again realized and he was an active participant in various organizations: member of the Royal Arts Society, London, England; director of the North Baptist Educational Society, 1973; member of the Farmington Institute of Christian Studies; and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. By 1974, Gomes was appointed minister of the Harvard Memorial Church and the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals.



Born in Boston, Massachusetts on May 22


Preaches his first sermon at twelve years of age


Graduates from Plymouth High School


Receives B.A. from Bates College


Receives B.D. degree from Harvard University; ordained to ministry of American Baptist Church


Teaches at Tuskegee Institute


Receives D.D. degree from New England College; minister to Harvard Memorial Church and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals


Delivers benediction at second inaugural for President Ronald Reagan


Delivers inaugural service for President George Bush


Declares status as Christian who happens as well to be gay


Publishes The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart


Publishes The Good Life: Truths that Last in Times of Need

Gomillion, Charles G.(1900–1995) - Civil rights activist, Chronology [next] [back] Goliath

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