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 Preaching; Dem 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.
Casting 'A Vote for Love'
Writing in the (Duke) Chronicle in the wake of the presidential election, Dean Powery says now is the time to recognize that what we owe each other is love. "We’ve cast our votes already for a presidential candidate but I hope post-election, you will still cast your vote for and charge your life with love," he wrote.
In articulating the difficult call to love others, including enemies, he cites ancient and contemporary voices, including Jesus, the Apostle Paul, theologian Howard Thurman, philosopher Cornel West, and Gospel artist Kirk Franklin. Love "is defined by what it is for and it is for you, me, all of humanity," he says. "It is the power we need in the days ahead."
The Value of Gratitude
In his most recent column in the (Duke) Chronicle, Chapel Dean Luke A. Powery draws a lesson about gratitude from the briefest prayer he remembers his father praying—"thank ya."
"Thanksgiving opens up space in our hearts toward the hearts of others, even the holy Other," he writes. "This mode of thanksgiving is not purely a one-time event spoken over a meal or one day we celebrate in November. It is a way of being in the world through all circumstances."
In addition to his father's wisdom, Dean Powery draws on insights from the Apostle Paul, the medieval mystic Meister Johann Eckhart, contemporary Christian author Lewis Smedes, and the website Gratefulness.org.
Dean Powery Contributes to New Volume on Theologian Howard Thurman
Edited by Professor Gregory C. Ellison II and published by Westminster John Knox Press, the volume includes contributions from Chapel Dean Luke A. Powery, Marian Wright Edelman, Parker Palmer, Barbara Brown Taylor, and other spiritual and civic leaders.
Dean Powery on 'Just Be'
In reflecting on his sabbatical this past spring, Chapel Dean Luke A. Powery writes in his latest (Duke) Chronicle column "Just be" about the importance of taking a sabbath (however brief) from doing and achieving to rest and to be.
"One key idea about the nature of sabbath itself became highlighted [during his sabbatical], that is, that the worth of my life and the worth of your life are not rooted in work or production," he writes.
'Called to Hope' with Dean Powery
In an online conversation on October 8, 2020, Chapel Dean Luke A. Powery addressed connections among lament, justice, and hope. The discussion was moderated by the Rev. Bruce Puckett, assistant dean at the Chapel, and included questions from viewers. Watch the recording:
Dean Powery Gives Ruben L. Speaks Lectures
Dean Powery gave the Virtual Ruben L. Speaks Endowed Memorial Lecture Series for Hood Theological Seminary on October 2 and 3, 2020. The series comprised these two online lectures (click to watch):
- I Can’t Breathe: A History of Racialized Inhumanity
- Breath on Me, Breath of God: A Pneumatology for a Humanizing Ministry
The Ruben L. Speaks Endowed Memorial Lecture Series is named in honor of the late Bishop Ruben Lee Speaks, a gifted African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church leader acknowledged on numerous occasions for his leadership and creative engagement in ministry. Speaks received the Chancellor’s Award from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Brooklyn Advisory Committee of the New York Urban League.
Tears of Hope
In his Chronicle column on September 28, 2020, Dean Powery writes that, "Tears sow the seeds of hope." Citing examples from the fourth-century theologian Augustine to the Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah to Durham's civil rights leader Pauli Murray, Dean Powery says, "I can’t help but believe as a minister that God is in our tears."
"One may shed tears because one refuses to shrink back from struggle and pain and injustice," he says. "Joy may be gone but hope is not."
The Prophetic Role of Tears
In sermon during a Duke Divinity School worship service on September 24, 2020, Dean Powery preached on the Prophet Jeremiah and how can tears play a role in prophetic proclamation. “Prophetic grief is a form of lament that boldly proclaims that life is not right; prophetic grief tells it like it is,” he said in the sermon. “One may shed tears because one refuses to shrink back from struggle and pain and injustice. Joy might be gone, but hope is not.”
“Every tear drop is a prophetic act of resistance against the way life is—and a prayer for something better,” he said.
Watch the sermon:
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.”
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
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."
The Gift of Laughter
"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."
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
"Just be human, a beloved child of God," he says.
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."
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 Creationspring 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)."
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:
- Lecture 1: “Many Thousand Gone: A Perpetual History of Inhumanity”
- Lecture 2: “Every Time I Feel the Spirit: A Pneumatology for Particularity”
- Lecture 3: “There is a Balm: A Ministry with Humanity”
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 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:
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.
A Prayer for the Class of 2023
An Introduction to This Year's Music Season
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
Welcome to the new virtual home of Duke University Chapel. Come in, the digital doors are open.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.
Come in and journey with us, virtually and in-person. The digital and physical doors are open for you.
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
“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
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."
- Read the full interview
- Listen to Dean Powery sing some of the spirituals during an Adult Forum session on Were You There?
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 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
“‘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
“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?'
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.