Reverend Jonathan L. Walton, a Harvard Divinity School professor, has been appointed Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, the University announced Wednesday. Walton is an ordained Baptist minister who received tenure as a professor at the Divinity School this semester.
“I’m excited, honored, extremely humbled. This is arguably one of the most prestigious ecclesiastical and academic positions on the planet,” Walton said. “It is a perfect blend of scholarly excellence and congregational vitality.”
University President Drew G. Faust said in a statement that Walton, who has accepted the position once held by the late Reverend Peter J. Gomes, would “bring new life to spirituality and religion at Harvard.”
“He is among the country’s foremost scholars of African American religion, a powerful preacher, a thoughtful pastoral presence, and a wonderful human being,” she said. “His scholarly and ecclesiastical callings are mutually enriching in the best traditions of campus ministry.”
Walton’s strength as both a practicing minister and a scholar of religion was an important factor in his appointment, according to Faust. In addition to his preaching role at the Church, Walton will continue his academic and teaching endeavors at Harvard Divinity School in his capacity as the Plummer professor of Christian morals.
“I think he has had a sense of having two separate commitments in his life—a deep commitment to scholarship and teaching and the other [to] his life as a preacher,” Faust said. “This opportunity just brings it together for him in a way that I think he finds really appealing.”
Walton, a prominent scholar of African-American religion, graduated from Morehouse College and later received a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. His first book, “Watch This!: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism,” focuses on the relationship between media and religion.
Walton arrived at Harvard in 2010 as an associate professor at the Divinity School and a resident scholar in Lowell House.
Lowell Housemasters Diana L. Eck and Dorothy A. Austin added that Walton, who can often be found mingling with students in the Lowell Dining Hall, is committed to engaging with Harvard undergraduates in addition to carrying out his formal duties.
“This is a wonderful appointment. He’s such a brilliant preacher and scholar. He’s so deeply engaged with students, and he’s been a wonderful leader in this community. We will miss having him and his wife and children [in Lowell],” Austin said.
“People felt he was a wonderful member of the House,” added Eck, who was a member of the committee tasked with finding a new minister. “I don’t think some students had any idea that he was a practicing minister—so for them his appointment was a pleasant surprise.”
Walton said he hopes to maintain Memorial Church as a welcoming environment for the Harvard community.
“I understand that everyone may not belong to Memorial Church,” he said. “We are a very diverse community, but I want to everyone to know that Memorial Church belongs to everyone.”
The appointment follows a yearlong search after the death of Gomes, who was known at Harvard as the University’s spiritual leader and across the country as a skilled orator and best-selling author.
“There will never be another Peter Gomes, so there’s no need for me to even try,” Walton said. “I just pray that this community will embrace me and I’m confident that they will embrace me for who I am, my country twang and all.”
—Staff writer Matthew M. Beck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at email@example.com.