Filling Gomes' Shoes

New minister Jonathan L. Walton aims to integrate religious population into the greater Harvard community

After the initial excitement, Walton says the enormity of the position has humbled him.

“This is such a special community of faith within higher education,” he says. “I just have an enormous task in front of me.”

For Walton, the new position blends two things that he is passionate about: practicing ministry and pursuing religious scholarship.

“I can remain committed to the expansion of knowledge and also think out loud every Sunday with a community of faith about pressing concerns,” he says. “It is a perfect blend, a perfect hybrid.”

The job, however, does not come without challenges.


“My appointment can be a moment of mourning for many because it confirms the fact that Professor Gomes is no longer with us,” he says. “To move forward means to acknowledge the loss.”

Because Gomes has had such a long tenure, Katz says he recognizes that adapting to the different dynamic at church might be difficult for some congregants.

And to those who compare Walton and Gomes, Katz says that Walton was not hired to be Gomes. “We are hoping he will come in and be Jonathan Walton,” he says.


Despite praise for the appointment from officials across the University, Walton’s twin children were originally hesitant.

“They asked, ‘Does that mean we have to leave Lowell House?’” he says. Indeed, Walton and his family will soon move in to Sparks House, which was previous occupied by Gomes.

Though Walton says that he will miss the Lowell community that he has become a part of, he is excited by the prospect of meeting the broader Harvard community.

He says that he is uncertain whether to continue the Wednesday teas at Sparks House, a tradition started by Gomes in 1974 to offer students an opportunity to mingle with the church community. But regardless, he says that his doors are always open.

“I am a milk and Oreo kind of a guy,” he says. “But whatever it is, I want everyone to feel welcomed.”

As he prepares for a journey ahead of him, Walton remembers a quote that Mays used to share with his students: “Morehouse holds the crown over your head and challenges you to grow taller to wear it.”

“I honestly feel that Harvard has held this crown of Memorial Church over my head,” he says, “and I am hoping that, with the community’s support, I will be able to grow tall enough to wear it.”

—Staff writer Jane Seo can be reached at

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:


An earlier version of this article misstated the middle initial of the new minister of Memorial Church. His full name is actually Reverend Jonathan L. Walton.


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