Hello Dr. Willimon,
You don't know me but I thought I would drop you a quick line this morning. Last night before bed I was reading the lovely obituary of Peter Gomes that you wrote in the Christian Century magazine. I am sure you miss him. We all do. He was a lion of the pulpit and a leader and mentor to many of us. Peter Gomes is someone many preachers around these parts strive to be like and that is a good thing. However, I must take exception with something you wrote. It was a little phrase and--no doubt--you put it in because you like the sound and cadence. It is a preacher's phrase. I said it out loud. Too bad it is incorrect.
You were writing about Peter Gomes' writing--I think--but you may have been being a bit more general that that when you described the man as "a sort of eloquent last hurrah of New England Christian liberalism at its very best." Excuse me? Last hurrah? Understand, sir, that I mean no disrespect to you or to Dr. Gomes, but we are not ready for our last hurrah just yet. Every week great preachers in the tradition of New England Christian liberalism climb into their pulpits to stand between the rampant forces of conservatism and intolerance on the one hand and that flood of secular indifference on the other.
Notice I didn't say we "hold back" those forces. We are still realists though still we try. The intolerance we know how to fight. The indifference hurts us badly but we have not given up. We stand there in our churches--from half a dozen denominations--preaching the gospel as we know it to those members of our congregations who have the will to hear. We will do so until all of New England has turned its back on us. That will take a while. In fact it may never ever happen! I promise you if there is a last hurrah, there will be no Dr. William Willimon around to see it and write us a splendid eulogy.
Perhaps you meant only to suggest that Gomes was better than we who remain. You did, after all, say he represented our tradition at its very best. I respectfully submit that there are plenty of people today who will rise up and take his place. It is what Dr. Gomes would have wanted, by the way. You may not know these people. Perhaps you thought all the New England churches were filled with historical recreations like Sturbridge Village. That's OK. On the blank edges of some of our maps are the words "Here there be W. Willimon". We haven't met you either, but we suspect you might exist. Most of our churches have a pastor or two. Others have determined lay people. They are all doing good work and, again, we have not given up to the point where we will not do our very, very, best!
Cheer up! I am writing to reassure you. Your friend Peter lives on in more ways than one. The fact is, we carry more light and truth than even we realize. That truth, doctor, will never die...
Yours in New England Christian Liberalism,
Rev. Dr. Adam Tierney-Eliot