N.C. Central University Chancellor Charlie Nelms will give the sermon today at Duke Chapel's Good Friday service.
This will be Nelms' first sermon at Duke Chapel but far from his first church appearance. Since coming to NCCU in 2007, Nelms has made a habit of speaking at area churches. Doing so, he says, is a chance to offer public testimony.
He does it on his own time and speaks just as "Charlie," not as the leader of a public university.
"I'm speaking as a citizen of Durham, not as the chancellor of NCCU," Nelms said this week. "I'm presenting my personal point of view around issues of faith. I'm more than a chancellor. I'm driven by a set of beliefs. I don't invoke those in any public kind of way when I'm interacting with students."
He speaks at area churches about a dozen times a year.
Nelms was raised in a small baptist church near Crawfordsville, Ark. In a small southern town, church was a big deal.
"The church was a special kind of place. And Easter was a very special time in the life of a poor kid growing up in the south because that's when you got your special clothes," he recalled. "You got a special outfit, and you had to give a special speech. An Easter speech. You're taught public speaking at a very young age and you get over your fear of getting over speaking to a crowd. There's a lot of learning."
The Good Friday sermon at Duke Chapel is at noon today.
"Charlie Nelms is an outstanding speaker who has much to teach us about courage in the face of adversity and the transforming power of suffering love - which are exactly the things Good Friday is all about," said Samuel Wells, dean of Duke Chapel.
Nelms said he'll talk about social justice and the moral responsibility that comes with being a Christian.
"We must be people who not only espouse a particular set of values, but follow them as well," he said. "We must be willing to practice what we preach."
Nelms expects to speak for 15 or 20 minutes today.
"Much longer than that, you bore people," he joked.