The Rev. Luke Powery will be installed as Dean of Duke Chapel at 11 a.m. Sunday in a colorful and joyous service with music reflecting the cosmopolitan Holiness-Pentecostal tradition in which he was raised, including an African choral piece and a Caribbean-style setting of the “Sanctus” text, sung in Spanish and accompanied by steel drums and other percussion.
The service will conclude with a grand celebratory piece performed by the Chapel Choir, brass and percussion, the Duke student group United in Praise, the Divinity School gospel choir, children from the congregation, and, “hopefully, everyone in attendance,” said Rodney Wynkoop, director of Duke Chapel Music.
The new dean, an ordained Baptist minister, will preach his own installation sermon centered on the story of Joseph, the dreamer.
Powery, 38, who will occupy one of America’s bully pulpits, is a preaching expert. He taught preaching at Princeton Seminary, his previous position. With his background, his ordination as a Progressive National Baptist and his having served in Baptist and Presbyterian churches in Switzerland, Canada and the U.S., he has plenty of life experiences from which to draw.
He defines homiletics, the subject he will teach next year at Duke Divinity School, as the “theological study of the art of preaching” and says preaching is both a theological as well as a rhetorical endeavor.
And although every budding preacher-person might not have innate talent for both heart and head preaching, there are things they can learn, he says.
“I think there are certain skills like the use of language, how to tell stories and how to shape your sermon for the listening audience that can be taught. Those gifted by God in some way have responsibility to nurture that gift whether it be some who use voice coaches or others who study the sermons of St. Augustine on how he used language.”
Members of the chapel congregation already know that Powery likes to tell stories, that he is a talented musician and that in the middle of a sermon he might just break into song, singing part of his message. A sermon, he says, is like a piece of jazz. You never know what direction it might take.
Powery sees “wonderful possibilities for the chapel to be at the intersection of the university and the community, at the crossroads for a variety of issues and events.” This was an emphasis carried to a new level by the chapel’s previous dean, Dr. Sam Wells.
Powery likes the structure of the worship service at Duke Chapel and has no specific plans to change the order of service. “I like the basic ancient order of the liturgy and the proclamation of the word,” he said. “Right now my posture is listening, learning and loving, taking in the rich history and what has been Duke Chapel.”
If Powery comes across as something different at Duke Chapel, this notion can be supported. He holds two firsts for the chapel: First Baptist dean and first black dean. In its not-so-long history dating to the mid-1930s, the chapel has had a variety of deans with a variety of denominational backgrounds. The list includes a Quaker, a Presbyterian, an Anglican, several Methodists and now a Baptist.
Arriving in Durham in mid-August, the Powery family found housing and arranged for their two children, Moriah, 10, and Zachary, 6, to begin school here. Gail, the dean’s wife and a social worker, will not work outside the home this year. Powery started at Duke Sept. 4.
Getting introduced to the Bull City, he attended a clergy breakfast during September as well as the annual gathering for new ministers hosted by First Presbyterian where he ran into a former student from Princeton Seminary, Sarah Finbow, new youth minister at First Presbyterian.
The chapel dean also has accepted an invitation from a local pastor, Dr. David Mitchell at Mt. Gilead Baptist on Dowd Street, to preach two nights this month during the church’s annual revival. The dean and Mitchell met a year ago at the General Baptist Convention of North Carolina.
Sunday’s installation ceremony will be followed by a luncheon, open to the public, on the chapel grounds. Caribbean food along with Southern pies for dessert will be served to represent global and local realities in honor of Powery’s Caribbean-American ancestry. Steel drums will be played during the celebratory lunch. A tent will be on-hand in case it rains.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published, broadcast or redistributed in any manner.