March 3, 2011
NEW YORK CITY—The American Guild of Organists (AGO) is saddened by the death of the Rev. Dr. Peter J. Gomes on Monday, February 28, 2011, in Boston. Peter Gomes enjoyed a distinguished career at Harvard University as the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at the School of Divinity and the Pusey Minister of Memorial Church. He was also an organist who announced, "When I am certain University Church is locked and [the music director] is not in evidence, I make my way to Appleton Chapel and ‘have at’ the mighty Fisk therein." He died on Monday of complications from a stroke, according to a statement from Harvard University officials.
"Peter Gomes was a great friend to sacred musicians," declared the Rev. Dr. Victoria R. Sirota, canon pastor and vicar of the congregation at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City, and author of Preaching to the Choir: Claiming the Role of Sacred Musician (Church Publishing, 2006). Dr. Sirota was AGO National Chaplain from 1998 to 2002 and was mentored by Gomes during her student years at Harvard Divinity School. She said, "He held the [sacred music] profession in high esteem and gave all of us in the AGO wonderful advice, support, and inspiration over the years as our chaplain and friend."
Speaking of his distinguished legacy in the pulpit, Dr. Sirota stated, "I believe that Peter Gomes was a wonderful preacher—not only because he had a fine intellect, a thoughtful and well-grounded theology, a deep faith, and a delightful sense of humor—but also because he, himself, was an organist. His mother was a conservatory-trained pianist. He understood the way in which great music and inspired texts complement each other in a service, and also understood how dynamic shifts, changes in tempo, color, and cadence can make the words come alive." Gomes had a personal and unique understanding of both the spoken word and the power of song; he was chairman of the editorial committee for The Harvard University Hymn Book, Fourth Ed. (Harvard University Press, 2007). "He was brilliant at improvising at a sermon," she added.
"But what I will most remember about Peter Gomes was the courage he exhibited on the steps of Harvard’s Memorial Church in November 1991. In the midst of great turmoil over fundamentalism, the Bible, and homosexuality, he spoke honestly and authentically as ‘a man of God who happened to be gay.’ In that moment, by risking his position and using his influence, he became a prophet for our times. The truth he lifted up is still reverberating in Harvard Square and around the world. He will be greatly missed."
An American Baptist minister, Peter Gomes was named one of America’s top preachers by Time magazine in 1979, and assumed the role of AGO National Chaplain the same year. He participated in the inauguration of two U.S. Presidents. The recipient of thirty-three honorary degrees and author of numerous books, his most recent literary contributions are The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News? (2007), and Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living (2004). His New York Times best-selling books include The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart (2002) and The Good Life: Truths That Last in Times of Need (2003). In addition, he published eleven volumes of sermons and numerous articles and papers.
Gomes’s most recent address to the AGO was given during the 2006 National Convention in Chicago. At the opening convocation, he called upon "the consideration of Holy things." In his rich, vibrant, baritone voice, he declared, "I say that we are at our best when we worship . . . when we are engaged in the liberation of that which is already within us that might be called the ‘muse,’ or the ‘spirit,’ then we have called to life a slumbering soul, given voice and expression to that which is already there, and we help shape and form and direct it. That is why we are among God’s chosen and holy ones on earth; we allow this to happen by sharing our skills and talents with others. We do it in the performance of the greatest and most glorious music that there is, but we also do it when we enable a small congregation to sing well the hymns of Zion. We are at our best when at worship we realize that what we have, what we are, what we can do is all offered in the service of something, someone, greater than we are. Thus to our profession belong such words as reverence, awe, majesty, beauty, and inspiration: those are our words, and understanding what they mean suggests that we understand that we too are holy, as the one who calls us is holy, and that the work we perform is holy."
A vigil in memory of Peter Gomes will be held at Harvard University’s Memorial Church today from 8:45 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. For further information, visit www.memorialchurch.harvard.edu.
The AMERICAN GUILD OF ORGANISTS is the national professional association serving the organ and choral music fields. Founded in 1896 as both an educational and service organization, it sets and maintains high musical standards and promotes the understanding and appreciation of all aspects of organ and choral music. The mission of the AGO is to enrich lives through organ and choral music. The Guild currently serves approximately 19,000 members in more than 300 local chapters throughout the United States and abroad. The American Organist Magazine, the official journal of the AGO and the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America, reaches an audience of more than 20,000 readers each month.
This information is submitted by F. Anthony Thurman, Director of Development and Communications at the National Headquarters of the American Guild of Organists and The American Organist Magazine. For further information, please contact Dr. Thurman by TEL (212) 870-2310, FAX (212) 870-2163 or E-MAIL firstname.lastname@example.org.