This year’s Duke Chapel student preacher spoke on a topic relevant to many Duke students—perfectionism.
Senior Hannah Ward was chosen as the student preacher. In her sermon, titled “Everybody’s Perfect,” she said that everybody can reveal perfection by engaging in honest relationships, giving of themselves and recognizing God’s love.
“Because our God is perfect, complete, holy, whole, we as His creation are too,” Ward told the congregation. “We are not to cover ourselves in insecurity, lies or deceit, but rather expose the caring, loving, compassionate beings God made us to be.”
Originally from Asheville, N.C., Ward is a Duke Chapel PathWays Scholar and is involved in many facets of Duke religious life—Duke Lutherans, Presbyterian Campus Ministries, Undergraduate Faith Council and the Chapel youth group. Ward is a pre-med student majoring in religion and psychology.
The student preacher is selected by members of the Chapel staff, Religious Life staff and Divinity School faculty, explained Christy Lohr Sapp, associate dean for religious life.
Director of Worship Meghan Feldmeyer noted that the committee strives to read the applicants' sermons objectively. Although it is always a difficult decision, Feldmeyer said this year the committee was able to reach consensus.
Katie Owen, Presbyterian Campus Minister and a mentor of Ward, said that the goal of Student Preacher Sunday is to allow the Chapel congregation to be involved in undergraduates’ spiritual journeys. Furthermore, she said, it emphasizes that preaching can include all types of people.
“It’s a reminder that the role of preaching is not limited to those who have doctorates and are the best in the world at it,” Owen said. “The Chapel could be perceived as a place where those who are invited to preach are the best of the best. Student Preacher Sunday is a reminder that God calls lots of people to preach, not just those with perfect credentials.”
Ward said she has always been interested in being the student preacher, but this was the first year she applied.
She expressed gratitude to the religious life community for supporting her and exposing her to diverse perspectives and beliefs.
“One of the biggest lessons that I've learned while participating in Religious Life is to be open to multiple perspectives," Ward said. "Everyone at Duke is brilliant and passionate and it seems a shame to not explore that aspect of this campus.”
Both Sapp and Feldmeyer commented that Ward is a “mischievous prankster” known around the Chapel for her sense of humor, which was evident in parts of her sermon.
“Because of her humor, people often fail to recognize her depth,” Feldmeyer said. “As someone whohas known her thoughtfulness and depth, it was particularly lovely to see her in the Chapel pulpit.”
Ward noted that she hopes people will take away the message that we are perfect because God loves us, and that love enables us to love each other.
“There are two parts of being perfect,” Ward said. “There’s the acknowledgement that because you were created by God and redeemed by Christ and the process to which you reveal that truth to others.”
Ward called on the congregation to take action, saying that the gift of God’s grace gives us a responsibility to be charitable and loving.
“Our scripture today gives us a call to action—to show the world the love that has redeemed us,” Ward said in her sermon. “Not sure you have the strength right now? Don’t worry…I hear practice makes perfect.”
A number of students reacted positively to Ward’s message.
“Her sermon was as inspiring as it was relatable,” said freshman PathWays Chapel Scholar Autumn Carter.
Freshman Zach Heater commented that he appreciated the theological questions Ward raised.
“Hannah addressed an issue that is very important for Duke students,” said Heater, also a PathWays Chapel Scholar. “She asked, 'What does it mean to be perfect in the Duke context? What does it meant to be perfect in the eyes of God? What is the difference?'”