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A Singing Dean

Luke Powery, first black dean of Duke Chapel, combines music and ministry

Luke Powery, dean of Duke Chapel, singing a benediction. Photo courtesy of Duke Chapel.
Luke Powery, dean of Duke Chapel, singing a benediction. Photo courtesy of Duke Chapel.

Name: Luke Powery

Title: Dean of Duke Chapel

Years at Duke: Started Sept. 1, 2012

What I do at Duke: I am a minister to the university. That is the title they used for this position before calling it dean of the Chapel. It is a multilayered job. It includes the pastoral dimension of counseling, guidance and ongoing public preaching. There is the scholarly dimension of being a faculty in the Divinity School. There is an administrative dimension of running a Chapel with over twenty staff. And I am the public face of Duke Chapel. Since I'm new, and it is historic to be the first black dean of the Chapel, I've been doing a lot with the media.

Something unique in my office: I have a black and white photo of Julian Abele, the black architect of Duke Chapel. It was given to me the day after my installation as Dean of the Chapel by Oscar Dantzler, our custodian. He told me he had had it for many years, but that I should have it now.

If someone wants to start a conversation with me, they should ask about: Song and singing. I was a voice major as an undergraduate, as a lyric baritone. I've recorded some songs, studied spirituals and incorporated song into my preaching. My dad was a minister and music was part of our home. My three brothers played trombone, sax and drums and my sister played piano. We all used to sing together, generally music from the church, but sometimes a song from Jamaica, where my Mom is from. You never know where a song may burst forth if a Powery is around.

When I'm not at work I like to: Watch sports on ESPN. In football, I root for the Miami Dolphins because I grew up in Miami. I also root for the Miami Heat in basketball, even though they weren't a team when I was growing up. And my baseball team is the New York Yankees because I was born in the Bronx.

My first job: I worked in a Burger King in Miami.

A book I'm reading: I have been traveling with Howard Thurman's "Meditations of the Heart." Thurman was the first black dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University in the 50s. He was a spiritual adviser for Martin Luther King, Jr.

If I had $5 million I would: Save some of it, but I would definitely invest some in Durham. As I learn about Durham and the community, I'm learning about all the organizations that are attempting to end poverty and hunger and violence right here.

My first memory of Duke: I have a brother, Emerson, who did a Ph.D. in religion at Duke, and I remember visiting him in the 90s and helping him deliver papers in Durham at four in the morning. But I also remember coming to his graduation in `99 and standing on the quad. The architecture of the Chapel was impressive, but I never imagined I would be sitting here in this office as Dean.