An appreciation of Peter Gomes

In a recent appreication of Peter Gomes, William J. Willimon tells an anecdote with implications for ecclesiology:

One Sunday, as Peter say in the vestry and prepared for the morning service, a student usher entered and stammered, “There’s somebody preaching here this morning.”

Peter replied, “Of course, me.”

“I mean there’s somebody preaching in the pulpit. Now. Is that OK?”

“What?” Peter thrust his head into the sanctuary. Aghast, he saw an African-American woman in the pulpit ranting at the docile congregations, screaming over the organ prelude. Indignantly, Peter bustled over to her and hissed through gritted teeth. “You, come down here this instant. Yes, you.”

The intruder stared down at Peter.

“This instant!” he sneered.

Startled, she came down the steps and informed Peter that she had been commissioned to preach that day a word direct from the Lord.

“Look you,” said Peter, in love, “this is my pulpit. I have earned the right to preach in this place. No one is going to deliver any word from the Lord today except for the Reverend Doctor Peter J. Gomes. Now you go sit down on that pew and keep your mouth shut or I will call the campus police after I wring your head off.”

Peter reported that the woman sat there through the service — silent, with a beatific smile upon her face.

“As the prelude ended, I looked with scorn upon my congregation,” Peter confessed. “White, guilt-ridden liberals all, they would have sat there all morning, doing nothing while that woman continued her drivel unabated. They should thank God that their pastor is not some intellectual wimp.”

— “Harvard’s preacher” by William J. Willimon, The Christian Century, 5 April 2011, p. 11.

Would that all religious liberal congregations treated their pulpits with as much respect as Gomes treated the pulpit of Memorial Church.