Dean Luke A. Powery

From the Dean

The Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery is the dean of Duke University Chapel and associate professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School. A national leader in the theological study of the art of preaching (homiletics), Powery regularly delivers sermons at Duke Chapel as well as at churches throughout the United States and abroad. He is often a keynote speaker and lecturer at educational institutions, conferences, symposia, and retreats.

Scroll down to see recent messages, talks, sermons, and more from Dean Powery.


His teaching and research interests are located at the intersection of preaching, worship, pneumatology, and culture, particularly expressions of the African diaspora. He is the author of Spirit Speech: Lament and Celebration in PreachingDem Dry Bones: Preaching, Death, and Hope; Rise Up, Shepherd! Advent Reflections on the Spirituals; and Were You There? Lenten Reflections on the Spirituals. He has co-authored an introductory textbook on preaching, Ways of the Word: Learning to Preach for Your Time and Place. He is also a general editor of the nine-volume lectionary commentary series for preaching and worship titled, Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship.

Powery was ordained by the Progressive National Baptist Convention and has served in an ecumenical capacity in churches throughout Switzerland, Canada, and the United States. He is a member of the Academy of Homiletics, for which he has served as Secretary; the American Academy of Religion; and the Society for the Study of Black Religion. Powery served as a member of the executive lectionary team for The African-American Lectionary and is the recipient of numerous scholastic fellowships and awards. In 2008, the African-American Pulpit named him one of twenty outstanding black ministers under the age of forty who are helping shape the future direction of the church. More recently, in 2014, he was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Collegium of Scholars at Morehouse College for his ethical and spiritual leadership in the academy, church, and broader society.

Prior to his appointment at Duke, he served as the Perry and Georgia Engle Assistant Professor of Homiletics at Princeton Theological Seminary. He received his bachelor of arts in music with a concentration in vocal performance from Stanford University, his master of divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and his doctor of theology from Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto.

He is married to Gail Powery, and the couple has two children.

More information on education and work history can be found in Dean Powery's CV.

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    Loving Your Body

    In his latest Chronicle column titled “Loving your body,” Chapel Dean Luke Powery writes about the importance of caring for our physical bodies.

    “Your life is sacred, including your body, and you are a cathedral of clay,” he says. “We sometimes overlook this even at our universities when we think education is only about our neck up when it is really about our whole selves, including the bodies we don’t always love.”

    Read the full column.

    A Conversation on Faith and Learning

    In a wide-ranging interview with Dean Brian Konkol of Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University,  Dean Powery talks about his own journey in faith and learning, the power of spirituals, his approach to preaching, and how he encourages students to seek an integrated education.

    "How are you remembering your humanity?" he asks students. "You are more than a head on a stack of books."

    Watch the discussion from September 9, 2020:

    Brutalizing Black Bodies Is an Assault Against God

    Writing in Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership online magazine, Dean Powery says, "You can’t be for God and be for anti-Black violence."

    The police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and other recent acts of violence against Black Americans is "part of a long, long line of real-life stories revealing anti-Blackness, in our country and in American Christianity," he writes.

    "As a Christian minister, I must name this truth," he says. "I must also name another truth of the gospel: The incarnation of Jesus shows us a different vision for human life, in which God embraces Black bodies, all bodies, all flesh, so that being for God means being against anti-Black violence."

    Read the article from September 9, 2020.

    The Gift of Laughter

    Writing in The Chronicle for his new biweekly column, Dean Powery says that together song and laughter have become "a key lifeline" for him as he grows older.

    "Laughter breaks the chains that want to enslave our hearts," he writes. "Laughter helps us win from within. It is embodied joy as it cannot be done without the inclusion of our bodies, even bodies that have been beaten and broken; it is a whole reclamation of ourselves as humans and a holy joy amid sorrowful situations."

    Read the essay.

    Prayers for the Class of 2024

    As part of the online New Student Convocation on August 13, 2020, Dean Powery offered an invocation along with Rabbi Elana Friedman and Muslim Chaplain Joshua Salaam. Dean Powery prayed: “O God: Keep us safe, healthy, and strong. Let our material masks unmask the truth of who we are, that together we may discover our common humanity, and by doing so, truly embody the institutional value of excellence. That is, the most excellent way of love, justice, and peace.” Watch the invocation:

    Dean Powery Returns from Sabbatical

    Dean Powery has returned from his sabbatical and will preach during the worship service on Sunday, July 12. While on sabbatical he was a visiting associate professor in the Department of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill. He did research on issues of the Spirit, race, and the church.

    Racism, Justice, and Becoming a Beloved Community

    In an extended interview with the Working@Duke news site, Chapel Dean Luke A. Powery and Kimberly Hewitt, Duke’s vice president for the Office for Institutional Equity, discuss the ongoing history of structural and sustained racism and the implications for Duke. Watch the conversation:

    Life on the Other Side of Easter in 2020

    "You don’t have to be a super human or a super Christian in this Eastertide 2020," Dean Powery writes in a reflection on the Church Anew blog about living the Easter season during the COVID-19 epidemic.

    "Just be human, a beloved child of God," he says.

    Read the full article.

    The End of Lent: A Message of Hope

    In an open letter on March 27, 2020, Dean Powery offers a message of hope during the coronavirus outbreak.

    "I want to encourage you to use this time to seek and find our Lord," he writes. "The call for social distancing is an opportunity for spiritual closeness."

    Read the letter.

    A Message of Gratitude and Hope from Dean Powery

    In the video message below, Chapel Dean Luke A. Powery gives thanks for the many people caring for students, the campus community, and others. He says that the practice of social distancing can be connected to social solidarity and spiritual closeness.

    The Vocation of Creation

    In introducing the spring issue of Chapel View magazine, Dean Powery writes, "In this issue of Chapel View, you will see how the Chapel continues to embrace God’s vocation of creation through student engagement, including the interfaith work of Religious Life at Duke; Christian worship; sacred music and the arts; and community engagement.

    "Creativity, for us, is not merely a value, it is a divine calling, as we strive to make beauty out of chaos as artists of hope until the day God fills all voids once and for all as our all in all (1 Cor. 15:28)."

    Read the message.

    Dean Powery Delivers Currie Lectures

    Dean Powery presented the Currie Lectures at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary on February 3-5, 2020. The theme for the three lectures was “searching for common ground.”

    Watch the lectures:

    Journal Article on ‘Black Bodies and the Future of Theological Education’

    Dean Powery has published an article in the January 2020 issue of the journal Theology Today. Titled “‘Do this in remembrance of me’: Black Bodies and the Future of Theological Education,” the article is based on a lecture he gave at the 2019 Princeton University conference “Legacy and Mission: Theological Education and the History of Slavery.”

    The abstract for the paper begins: “Slavery was an assault on black humanity, including the black body. Theological education paired with and shaped by slavery embodied the same type of violence through its mission and curriculum, that is, the sanctified erasure of black personhood, Christianity, and scholarship.”

    To access the full paper, see options from the journal.

    Dean Powery's Sabbatical

    Dean Powery is on sabbatical leave for this semester (Spring 2020). During his sabbatical he will be a visiting associate professor in the Department of Africa, African American, and Diaspora Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill. He will do research for a book on the Spirit, race, and the church and invites the prayers of the Chapel community for a fruitful and refreshing sabbatical. While he is on leave, the Rev. Bruce Puckett, assistant dean at the Chapel, and Amanda Hughes, the Chapel’s director of development and strategy, will assume day-to-day leadership of the Chapel.

    Discussion Highlights Gun Violence Suffering, Causes, and Deterrence


    Dean Luke A. Powery introduces the panelists
    Dean Luke A. Powery introduces the panelists.
    Academic, law enforcement, and community leaders shared insights, frustrations, and hopes about preventing gun violence, as part of a public conversation Tuesday, October 15, 2019, at Duke Chapel.

    Dean Powery moderated the discussion, Every Life Sacred: the Urgency to End Gun Violence, before an audience of fifty people with more than fifty people additionally watching the livestream of the event.

    In introducing the event Powery said, “In relation to this topic, I stand here as a person who grew up in Miami, Florida, and have family members whose lives have been taken by gun violence, and whose lives have been threatened by gun violence.

    “In many ways this conversation tonight is not just a theological one or a sociological one but it is personal for many of us,” he said.

    Read more or watch the recording:

    Founders' Sunday Sermon

    In his sermon Achieving Nothing on Founders' Sunday 2019, Dean Powery reflected on the founding of Duke University, the generosity of benefactors, and St. Paul's injunction that "we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it." Watch the sermon:

    The Urgency to End Gun Violence

    Dean Powery gives a message on the urgency to end gun violence on Thursday, September 19:

    Over the last couple of months across the nation in Gilroy, California; El Paso, Texas; Dayton, Ohio; and even right here in Durham, North Carolina, gun violence has wreaked havoc on individuals, communities, families, cities, and towns.

    Gun violence is the denial of otherness. It objectifies, dehumanizes, and destroys other human beings. I believe we are all children of God, created from the dust of the earth. I believe that as surely as gun violence reveals a hatred of humanity, it also reveals a hatred of God. I say this out of the Christian tradition that claims God came to us as a human in the person of Jesus within a broken world, embodying divine love for all humanity. Acts of gun violence deny the all-inclusive love of God for all people. In fact, acts of gun violence are anti-human, and to be anti-human is to be anti-God. 

    Read the full statement.

    A Prayer for the Class of 2023


    Dean Powery offers the invocation at the 2019 Opening Convocation
    Dean Powery offers the invocation at the 2019 Opening Convocation
    In his invocation at Opening Convocation on August 21, Dean Powery closed by saying, “On this new day, create something so new that—even in a fractured world—this Class of 2023 would be inducted into the Hall of Fame of Humanity because they knew what it meant to learn, live, and love in community. Amen.”

    An Introduction to This Year's Music Season

    There is joy at Duke Chapel.

    This year, we welcome our new Director of Chapel Music, Dr. Zebulon Highben, to lead the time-honored tradition of sacred music at Duke Chapel. His commitment to our history and to innovation, to the old masterworks and to new compositions, is rooted in his passionate engagement with what music can do with us and for us. He knows that sacred music offers each of us the chance to participate more fully in the beauty of life as human beings, regardless of our individual beliefs. When we gather together to listen, setting down our cellular devices, our to-do lists, and the demands of the day, we glimpse the sacred nature of song and sound. Be it Bach, Beethoven, or the anonymous composer of an American Spiritual, sacred music reminds us that we begin and end in the mystery of love and we celebrate the creativity of all of God’s creation. Sacred music reminds us that we are made in the image of a beautiful, creative God, a God who breathes and moves through the staccato and the legato, the sorrow and the joys of our lives.

    I commend the entire season to you, your family, and your friends. In every way imaginable, the Chapel is making a joyful noise—breaking forth into joyous song. I hope that you will make Duke Chapel a destination for concerts and worship services throughout the year. But most of all, I encourage you to raise your voice, play your instruments, and join us as we make that joyful noise and break forth into the joy of God.

    Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery
    Dean of Duke University Chapel

    A Welcome to the New Website


    Welcome to the new virtual home of Duke University Chapel. Come in, the digital doors are open.

    I hope that you will find here practical tools for participating in the life of the Chapel—from our events calendar—with the most up-to-date listings of everything happening in the Chapel—to our archive where you can find links to our worship services. On every page, you will find useful information about our programs and how you might get involved. For example, take a look at the choir auditions page or undergraduate Chapel Scholars program or email list sign-up page.

    I also hope that this site helps connect you to the people, traditions, mission, and values of Duke Chapel because these are the heart and soul of our life and ministry. The Chapel is a place where our students find connections between their faiths and what they are learning. It is also place where our community gathers to worship, to remember and mourn the loss of loved ones, and to rejoice with new graduates and newlyweds.

    Duke Chapel is a vibrant community where faith is embodied in service, study, music, prayer, and proclamation to raise spirits, ignite minds, and nurture souls.

    There are many features to explore on this site and I invite you to learn about them here and to keep up with my reflections and messages on this From the Dean page.

    Come in and journey with us, virtually and in-person. The digital and physical doors are open for you.

    With gratitude,
    The Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery
    Dean of Duke University Chapel

    Pentecost and 'Unified Diversity'

    In a sermon titled "And" on Pentecost (June 9, 2019), Dean Powery preached about the "unified diversity" made possible through the Holy Spirit. Watch the sermon:

    Reflections on Theological Education and the History of Slavery

    Dean Luke A Powery speaks at Princeton Seminary
    Dean Luke A Powery speaks at Princeton Seminary
    Chapel Dean Luke A. Powery gave an address titled “Do This in Remembrance of Me: Black Bodies the Future of Theological Education” at Princeton Theological Seminary on April 9, 2019. He was invited to speak at the seminary, where he earned his master of divinity degree and previously served on the faculty, as part of a conference titled “Legacy and Mission: Theological Education and the History of Slavery.”

    “What I want to explore this morning is how Jesus Christ, who was in the form God, took on the form of a slave and being found in human form humbled himself to the point of death on a cross—and how this wounded theological formation in the very being of God converges with the woundedness of black enslaved bodies,” Dean Powery said in his address. “It will become clear how at the root and heart of theological education writ-large is a wound, a bleeding heart and broken body—both black and Christic.”

    Bridging the Spirituals and Liturgical Seasons


    'Were You There?' by Luke A. Powery
    'Were You There?' by Luke A. Powery
    In an interview with Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Dean Powery says, the spirituals "teach us about suffering before God and the life of faith."

    He explains about his new book, Were You There? Lenten Reflections on the Spirituals, that, "It was a way to bridge worlds that don’t normally meet, where you bring the enslaved tradition, wisdom tradition, the understanding of God, the Bible -- all of that life -- together with this generally high-church following of the liturgical calendar. Underneath this is a reconciliation of sorts."

    Preaching and Pentecost


    Dean Powery gives Willson-Addis Lecture
    Dean Powery gives Willson-Addis Lecture
    Dean Powery, an associate professor of homiletics at Duke Divinity School, gave the Wilson-Addis Lecture at Baylor University's Truett Theological Seminary on March 5, 2019. The title of his address was "Preaching and Pentecost."

    "Pentecost reveals that our speech is fundamentally grounded in a divine gift given by God the Spirit,” he said.

    Preaching and the Public Square

    Dean Powery joined two former deans of Duke Chapel—the Rev. Dr. Samuel Wells and Bishop William Willimon—for a public conversation about the role of preaching in public discourse. WUNC Radio host Frank Stasio moderated the event on February 27, 2019, in Duke Chapel. Watch the three deans talk about how they approach their vocations in the pulpit:

    University Leadership Message

    Dean Powery joined Duke President Vincent Price and other university leaders in issuing a message on February 2, 2019, about the character of the campus community. In it they say, "We emphatically affirm our promise to value the identities, heritage, cultures, and languages of every individual at Duke. Everyone at Duke deserves to be here."

    Dean Powery on Preaching

    A professor of homiletcs at Duke's Divinity School, Dean Powery has been interviewed many times about the practice, craft, and theology of preaching. Here is a selection of clips from those interviews:


    MLK Talk at Gustavus Adolphus College


    Dean Powery speaks at Gustavus Adolphus College
    Dean Powery speaks at Gustavus Adolphus College
    Dean Powery gave the 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture at Gustavus Adolphus College on "Diversity in Adversity: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Promise of the 'World House.'”

    “‘World House’ for King amounted to a global communitarian ethic that embraces persons across geographic and cultural boundaries," Dean Powery said. "What was key for King was ‘other preservation,’ and the recognition that all people are created in the image of God and are interdependent.”

    Comment on Julian Abele Markers


    Chapel Corner Stone
    Chapel Corner Stone
    In a Duke Today article on campus markers that recognize the architect Julian Abele, Dean Powery comments on the engraved cornerstone put in the Chapel this summer, which honors Horace Trumbauer, lead architect for the Chapel, as well as Abele, the building's chief designer.

    “The architectural creativity of Julian Abele is one of the foundational stones of this university, so having his name, along with Horace Trumbauer’s, on a foundational stone of Duke Chapel is fitting,” Powery said. “It serves as a truthful and just monument.”

    Publication of 'Were You There?'


    'Were You There?' by Luke A. Powery
    'Were You There?' by Luke A. Powery
    Dean Powery has published a new book Were You There? Lenten Reflections on the Spirituals. In these devotions for the season of Lent, Dean Powery leads the reader through the spirituals as they confront the mystery of Christ’s atoning death and victory over the grave.

    Each selection includes the lyrics of the spiritual, a reflection by the author on the spiritual’s meaning, a Scripture verse related to that meaning, and a brief prayer.