A reading from Mark

February 22, 1997


Staff Writer

When Mark Michael takes the pulpit in the Duke University Chapel today it won't be his preaching debut - by a long shot.

At 18, the former Clear Spring High School honor student - believed to be the first freshman ever to win the honor of preaching in the majestic chapel in Durham, N.C. - is a veteran of interim preaching stints in rural community churches around Washington County.

"We're taking a whole vanload of family and friends down,'' said Mark's mother, Jo Anne Michael, before the group's departure Saturday.


Michael has addressed his own small congregation at St. John's United Church of Christ in Clear Spring many times over the years.

He won the honor at Duke by submitting the best sermon to a committee of Duke Chapel and Duke Divinity School judges, according to Duke spokesmen.

In preparation for today's 15-minute sermon, Michael said he has been working with Duke Chapel Dean William Willimon so he won't "sound too preachy.''

"It's a pretty amazing opportunity for me to work with someone like Dr. Willimon,'' Michael said.

Willimon was recently named to a Baylor University study list of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world.

Michael said his sermon is based on a verse from the eighth chapter of Mark, in which Jesus told his disciples and the crowds, "if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.''

He said the "good news, bad news'' of the passage is that although the Christian cross can be so heavy to bear, it also brings hope and job to the faithful.

Jo Anne Michael said the family is proud of Mark's latest honor. "He's always said he wanted to be a minister since he was about 8,'' she said.

Jo Anne, her husband, Denny, Mark's two brothers, two grandmothers and others will make a day of it as they motor down to North Carolina for today's event.

Michael said he is enjoying himself at Duke, where he is active in the school's chorale group, marching band and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.

But, he said, he will always maintain a great appreciation for the close-knit community he's from - where everybody knows everybody.

"I've often told him he is too serious,'' Jo Anne Michael said. "But then he's always been old for his age.''

As if to illustrate that, Michael admits he has a picture of John Calvin - a Protestant reformer known for his stern, moral code - hanging on the wall of his dorm room.

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