Harvard Professor & Campus Pastor Jonathan Walton Named Dean of Wake Forest University School of Divinity

After seven years as Harvard’s Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister of the Memorial Church, Jonathan L. Walton will step down this summer to assume the role of dean of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Harvard announced today.

When he assumed leadership of the Memorial Church in 2012, Walton took over the role held for almost 40 years by Harvard legend Peter J. Gomes, a renowned Baptist preacher and scholar with a fierce wit who challenged intolerance and prejudice from the pulpit.

It may have been a daunting task, but Walton made the job his own by simultaneously respecting its long history and his predecessor while expanding efforts to press for social change and inclusion, and further opening up the church to Harvard and the wider community with the sentiment, “Everyone may not belong to Mem Church, but Mem Church belongs to everyone.”

“Harvard has been an incredible place for me professionally and for my family, personally. We developed incredible relationships that I am certain will stand the test of time and distance,” said Walton, an ordained Baptist minister whose research focuses on the intersections of religion, politics, and media culture. “The Memorial Church embraced me and helped me to grow intellectually and spiritually. Over the past seven years, I feel that we have extended that embrace to a wide array of people from varying walks of life. Those who gather today at Mem Church are both younger and more colorful, literally and figuratively, than when I arrived.”

Looking ahead, Walton said he is eager to head an institution that is devoted to preparing people for lives in ministry.

“At Wake Forest School of Divinity, there are about 125 master of divinity school students that are entering pulpits across this country and engaged in human services. To think that I could be a part of helping to shape the curriculum, and thus build upon the great work that they have been doing in preparing women and men for the ministry, is an exciting proposition.”

Across the University, members of the Harvard community reflected on Walton’s time in Cambridge.

“Jonathan Walton is an extraordinary talent, one of the finest preachers I have ever heard,” said Harvard President Larry Bacow. “His deep commitment to our students and our community have strengthened spiritual life at the University. With great compassion and wisdom, he has constantly reminded us of our responsibility to use our gifts to make the world a better place, and I am confident that he will make Wake Forest a better place, just as he has Harvard.”

An author, ethicist, and religious scholar, Walton graduated from Morehouse College and attended Princeton Theological Seminary. Prior to arriving at Harvard, he was assistant professor of religious studies at the University of California, Riverside, from 2006‒2010. He joined Harvard Divinity School (HDS) in 2010 and became the Pusey Minister in July 2012.

“Jonathan exemplifies the best in the great history of professorial ministers at the Memorial Church: He is both a scholar of world renown as well as a preacher whose voice resonates with both the timbres of a long and sublime African American tradition and the exquisitely subtle capacity for explications of the Harvard ministers who have preceded him. In other words, he excels both as a person of thought and a person of faith,” said Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher Jr. University Professor and director of the Hutchins Center.

During his tenure, Walton made a number of changes aimed at further opening the church to Harvard students, faculty, staff, and the public. He introduced a weekly coffee meeting for the community following Wednesday morning prayers, expanded the scope of speakers at weekday prayer services, and strengthened ties with HDS by affiliating the ministers there with the Memorial Church.

Walton was also committed to embracing Harvard’s diverse community, which comprises people of multiple faiths. In 2017 he requested the recruitment of the University’s first Muslim chaplain. The same year he announced that Lucy Forster-Smith, Sedgwick Chaplain to the University and senior minister in the Memorial Church, would dedicate her efforts full-time to multifaith initiatives.

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Source: The Harvard Gazette