Filling Gomes' Shoes
New minister Jonathan L. Walton aims to integrate religious population into the greater Harvard community
Resting atop a piano in the Lowell House Junior Common Room is a pair of purple velvet Versace slippers that once belonged to the late Reverend Peter J. Gomes.
Every time Jonathan L. Walton, a resident scholar in Lowell and the newly appointed Pusey Minister and Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, walks by these slippers, he is reminded that he will never fill in the shoes of Gomes, both literally and figuratively.
“Here I am, wearing my white Adidas,” Walton says, lifting his seersucker slacks ever so slightly to reveal pristine white sneakers. “There will never be another Peter Gomes.”
Instead of trying to be the next Gomes and “being a fool in the process,” Walton says he—as a minister, a scholar, and a father of twins with a third child on the way—hopes to integrate the religious community into Harvard at large.
“I have the vision of Memorial Church as the Sanders Theatre of moral and ethical question, a place where our doors swing on welcome hinges,” Walton says. “Everyone may not belong to Memorial Church, but Memorial Church belongs to everyone.”
Walton greets everyone he meets as brothers and sisters, shaking their hands with a firm grip and flashing a huge, genuine smile.
“It’s a Southern thing that extends from my Evangelical roots,” Walton says. “It is how I view the nature of humanity. I see all human beings as siblings under the parenthood of God.”
Walton graduated from Morehouse College, a historically black college in Atlanta before attending Princeton Theological Seminary.
He previously served as the officiating pastor at Memorial West United Presbyterian Church in Newark, N. J., and guest-preached in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, which was once led by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
At Harvard, Walton says that he hopes to convey the message that individuals should make “commitments to causes bigger than ourselves.”
“Love, justice, and service are not just abstract concepts and feel-good platitudes,” he says. “They are principles of a meaningful life.”
A RELATABLE LEADER
Walton’s interest in academic research and passion for interacting with students pulled him back to the ivy-covered towers of academia in 2010 as an associate professor at the Divinity School.
According to Memorial Church Epps Fellow Nathaniel P. Katz, who first met Walton in 2010, Walton charmed him not only with his willingness to talk to undergraduates about faith, but also with his ability to engage with the students.