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Christian Union
October 21, 2019

Scholar Served for Seven Years Following Death of Peter Gomes 

By Catherine Elvy, Staff Writer

Harvard’s minister of Memorial Church has stepped down after seven years of service to become dean of Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity. Jonathon Walton, who also served as Harvard’s Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, is a highly-regarded scholar and author.

Jonathon Walton, Harvard University’s minister of Memorial Church, stepped down to become dean of Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity. 

In 2012, Harvard appointed the Atlanta native to Memorial Church, where he succeeded the university’s beloved, longtime minister Peter Gomes ’68 after his unexpected passing. Walton began his stint on the faculty of Harvard Divinity School in 2010.

While at Harvard, he focused his research on the intersection of religion, politics, and culture, and frequently spoke out about social issues on campus and beyond. 


After his departure announcement on April 28, Walton described his experiences in the pulpit at the center of Harvard Yard with fondness to The Harvard Gazette, the university’s official news outlet. “The Memorial Church embraced me and helped me to grow intellectually and spiritually,” he said.

To make the church more welcoming, Walton introduced a weekly coffee meeting for community members following Wednesday morning prayers and expanded the scope of speakers at weekday prayer services.

Likewise, Walton tried to make Memorial Church feel like a home, an undergraduate worshipper told The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.

While serving as the Pusey Minister in Harvard’s Memorial Church, Walton oversaw a multimillion dollar renovation to the chapel, one of the most extensive to the building in its 87-year history. 

In an e-mail to Harvard affiliates on April 29, President Lawrence Bacow (JD ’76, MPP ’76, PhD ’78) described Walton’s departure as bittersweet. “Jonathan has dramatically altered spiritual life at Harvard through leadership infused with compassion and love,” Bacow wrote. Click to Tweet

In July, Walton transitioned to his role as dean of Wake Forest School of Divinity, where he will shape about 125 master of divinity students preparing to enter pulpits across the country and engage in human services. In addition, he now serves as Wake Forest’s Presidential Chair of Religion and Society.

During Walton’s formative years, his family discussed current events, civil rights, and social justice, helping to form the foundation for his scholarship, theology, and social activism. A religious scholar and ethicist, Walton attended Princeton Theological Seminary, where he earned a master of divinity degree and doctor of philosophy in religion and society. From 2006 to 2010, Walton was assistant professor of religious studies at the University of California, Riverside.

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