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Continuing a tradition begun more than 35 years ago by the late Reverend Peter J. Gomes, Wednesday teas will return this evening to Sparks House. Gomes, who died this past February, opened his official residence once a week as a gathering place for members of the Harvard community.
“This has become a great Harvard tradition. One of professor Gomes’ legacies is to help this place cherish traditions,” said Memorial Church Epps Fellow Nathaniel P. Katz. “The most important thing about the tea was the consummate hospitality. He created an environment that was welcoming to students and the community.”
Gomes—who was known to take an interest in the lives of students—began the teas in 1974.
“It picks you up at a flabby part of the day. I love having people at my house and I love having them on this occasion.” Gomes told the Harvard Gazette in 2009. “I also like trying to figure out who’s here. There are boys, girls, old people, young people—you never know who’s going to show up.”
Katz said that although there were concerns about continuing tea without Gomes, the Church thought that it was important to maintain the tradition.
“It was so much a part of the ministry that was his,” Katz said. “While it was something that was very closely tied to him, on some level it had taken on a life of its own.”
Katz said that past attendees of the weekly teas may be surprised to see the new interior of Sparks House. Once filled with Gomes’ eclectic collection of antiques, photographs, and artwork, the decorations in the official residence are now more sparse.
Gomes’ belongings were removed from the house this past summer.
The staff of the church moved furniture and decorations from the Memorial Church to try fill the void. Katz said that he hopes the house will eventually display paintings from the Fogg Museum.
“The space will look different, but it will still be an extension of Memorial Church’s ministry space,” Robert J. Mark, an assistant chaplain at the church.
In the past, Gomes functioned mostly as a greeter, embracing visitors at the door and making them feel welcome. This role will be filled by members of the Memorial Church staff, Katz said. The two greeters will vary week by week.
“One of the many things that he’s taught me is to know people’s names and make them feel welcome as individuals,” Mark said. “I will miss that incredible personal touch that he brought. He’s given us a great example of hospitality.”
Joined by Christine E. Whiteside, administrative assistant at the Church, Mark will be one of the tea’s first greeters.
“I’m deeply honored and looking forward to it,” Mark said. “But in no way do I pretend to be filling anyone’s shoes.”
Other changes to the tea include allowing guests to pour their own tea. In the past, tea pourers were assigned the task of pouring tea for the guests.
—Staff writer Justin C. Worland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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