Communi(tea), Once More

In the deep dusk of winter afternoon, Sparks House continues to glow nearly a year after Reverend Peter J. Gomes’ passing.
By Chloe B. Do and Sofia V. McDonald

In the deep dusk of winter afternoon, Sparks House continues to glow nearly a year after Reverend Peter J. Gomes’ passing. Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., soft light streams through the windows in the ground floor rooms, illuminating guests chatting over Wednesday Tea. This tradition, begun by Gomes, restarted in September after a brief hiatus following his death.

Over the years, Wednesday Tea at Sparks House has brought together a diverse cross section of the university to sip from a saucer of Darjeeling or munch on a scone, allowing Gomes to interact with members of the Harvard community outside of his daily services at Memorial Church. Immediately upon arriving at Sparks House, tea-goers would find themselves in the warm embrace of the Reverend. After an initial greeting, they would pass Gomes’ study—on the right—and enter the living and dining rooms—on the left—where tea was prepared. There, a designated “tea-pourer” would pour the steaming beverage from a polished silver tureen. Although the weekly event had little structure, the Reverend insisted on including typical Anglophile customs, choosing a different friend each week be the guest of honor and serve his visitors.

From the pace that the food was brought out, to the table arrangement and the clearing of dishes, Gomes paid careful attention to every aspect of the Teas. A typed note from 1977 reads: “Cut the cakes and sweets into small pieces and arrange pleasingly on canton plates found in the first set of cabinets over the sink. Do not put everything on at the start but pace the food so that it will last.”

The effort Gomes put into Wednesday Tea was not lost on his guests. As he reminisces about Tea with the Reverend, Gund University Organist and Choirmaster Edward E. Jones says, “He decided to start holding Tea at his home every Wednesday and made it into a great tradition. Reverend Gomes was everyone’s favorite part of Wednesday Tea.”

“I think Reverend Gomes had a real appreciation for the importance of social interaction and the preservation of communities. The act of worship every morning wasn’t ever enough. You needed to interact with people outside of church as well,” stresses second-year Business School student Jonas P. Atkins ’01, who was an usher at Memorial Church as an undergraduate.

Today there is no Gomes to welcome visitors to Sparks House, no official tea-pourer to uphold Anglophile custom.

Although Wednesday Tea once hinged on Gomes’spersonality, Epps Fellow Nathaniel P. Katz and Memorial Church Administrative Coordinator Elizabeth A. Montgomery recommenced its revival, feeling that it was an important institution to maintain.

“Wednesday Tea is about having a space on campus where the entire university can come together,” says Katz. “It’s hospitality in its purest form.”

Qin Chen, a visiting scholar at the Graduate School of Education, also adds, “I found out about tea through my husband who goes to Memorial Church. I just wanted to meet people in the Harvard community and discover what tea is like. We don’t have anything like this in our culture.”

Wednesday Tea has a way of bringing together individuals who would otherwise never meet. Everyone comes with her own story to tell.

“No one will ever be able to fill Reverend Gomes’ shoes,” confesses Katz.

And yet Wednesday Tea continues to make the school a little smaller, the idea of a community, perhaps, a little more tangible.

In The MeantimeReligious Groups