Peter Gomes is no stranger to Duke University or UNC-Chapel Hill. About 20 years ago, he was invited to give the baccalaureate address at Duke by Pelham Wilder, a Harvard alum and a professor of chemistry.
Wilder also served as the Duke University marshal and chief of protocol, a role that put him in charge of ceremonial events such as graduations. Wilder, his late wife, Sterly, and Gomes became good friends, and it's not hard to see why. The three appreciated ceremony, ritual and choreography.
"He's a very discriminating person," said Pelham Wilder, now 87 and retired. "Peter can't tolerate stupidity. He wants things done right."
In 1993, Gomes spent a sabbatical year at Duke. In 2005, Gomes gave the commencement address at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Last year, Wilder told Gomes he wanted him to preach the sermon at his funeral, while Gomes dedicated his new book to Wilder and to his late wife.
In "The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News," Gomes thanks the Wilders "whose hospitality of hearth and heart has always been most gracious and generous. Such friendships," he concludes, "are rare."