The Harvard community filled Memorial Church last night in a service of compline to honor the late Reverend Peter J. Gomes.
Gomes—who served as the church’s beloved minister and the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals for the past 35 years—died on Monday evening.
While the 40-minute ceremony was light on mentions of Gomes himself, it served as a powerful testament to his legacy and following at Harvard and beyond.
The pews were lined with a diverse representation of the Harvard community that included students, faculty, and congregation members. While some attendees were long-time friends of Gomes, others said they had never been to a service at Memorial Church but were inspired by his legacy as a spiritual and moral leader.
“He was a teacher, mentor, pastor, and friend,” said Epps Fellow Nathaniel P. Katz, who led the ceremony along with Memorial Church Associate Minister Dorothy A. Austin.
The ceremony itself began with a procession of the Harvard University Choir, clad in their red and black choral robes.
Attendees quietly entered the chapel—lit only by the hundreds of small candles in the hands of the mourners— some sharing an occasional hug or tear.
Solemn hymns and prayers were interrupted only by the occasional cough and a baby’s cry. Attendees departed the Church in silence after the ceremony.
The service of compline capped a day of prayer at Memorial Church dedicated to Gomes’ memory. Members of the community filtered in and out of the chapel throughout the day to honor the reverend.
Gomes’ casket was situated at the front of the room where mourners began to line up at 9 a.m. to pay their respects. Next to the casket sat a portrait of Gomes along with large, ornate arrangements of flowers.
Throughout the day, the organ—to which Gomes had dedicated much of his time in recent years to seeing restored—led those paying tribute in a set of somber hymns.
Known for his oratory skills, strong advocacy for equality, sharp insight into the Bible, and magnanimous spirit, Gomes was a long-time fixture on Harvard’s campus. He is largely credited for maintaining a following at Memorial Church while attendance shrunk at other university churches across the country.
Gomes’ death sparked an outpouring of emotion across the Harvard community.
“He was a scholar, a preacher, a teacher, and a public intellectual who brought religion into politics in ways that illumined our thought,” Austin told The Crimson earlier this week.
“No one epitomizes all that is good about Harvard more than Peter J. Gomes,” said Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. in a statement.
Austin announced that the University will hold a formal memorial service in Gomes’ honor open to the Harvard community on April 6 at 11 a.m.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.