The Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale, M.Div.’79, was presented with Duke University’s Distinguished Alumni Award during the Founder’s Weekend celebrations. Established in 1983 by the Duke Alumni Board of Directors, the Distinguished Alumni Award is awarded to alumni who have distinguished themselves by the contributions they have made in their own particular fields or professions, in service to Duke University, and to the betterment of humanity. Hale is the first recipient from Duke Divinity School. Previous honorees have included Judy Woodruff (D’68), Reynolds Price (D’55), and Elizabeth Hanford Dole (D’58).
Hale is the founding and senior pastor of the Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Ga., and has been in ministry for 43 years. Her commitment to pastoral ministry led her to create ELAH Pastoral Ministries, a mentoring program that assists in the development of pastors and parachurch leaders, and the Women in Ministry Conference that coaches and mentors Christian women for effective ministry in the face of contemporary challenges and opportunities.
Her service to Duke Divinity School has included serving on the Board of Visitors and participating in numerous speaking and event opportunities. She delivered the 2023 Martin Luther King Jr. Lectures as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Office of Black Church Studies.
"I am so honored and grateful to have been chosen to receive Duke’s 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award," Hale said. "I love Duke University, especially the Divinity School. It was during my tenure here that my destiny and purpose in life was confirmed, my passion for preaching was ignited and my pastoral skills were sharpened. It was here that I was given the courage to admit that though I am a woman, I was called to be a senior pastor. My professors affirmed me and my call and challenged me to think outside the box, to see the scriptures, life, and ministry from a whole new perspective, to follow the leading of God’s Spirit, dream and be open to the possibilities. So, I did—and my life and ministry has been incredible."
In addition to her leadership on academic, nonprofit and ministry boards, Hale was inducted into the African American Biographies Hall of Fame, the Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers of Morehouse College, and the Atlanta Business League Women’s Hall of Fame, among many other honors. She delivered the Invocation at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa. She published I’m a Piece of Work: Sisters Shaped by God and has contributed to preaching resources including Power in the Pulpit II: How America’s Most Effective Black Preachers Prepare Their Sermons and Feasting on the Gospels.
Edgardo Colón-Emeric, dean of Duke Divinity School, Irene and William McCutchen Professor of Reconciliation and Theology, and director of the Center for Reconciliation, attended the award presentation and added his commendation: “A wonderful and worthy recognition. Cynthia Hale is a pastor’s pastor. For decades, the church she founded in Atlanta has served as a beacon of hope for many. Truly, she exemplifies a life well preached!”
"This award is really a recognition of the amazing things that Duke Divinity School does with those who take full advantage of its offerings," Hale stated. "I am one of them. Receiving this award encourages me to continue the work that God by his grace has called me to do."
Longtime friend of Duke Divinity School Jack O. Bovender Jr. was presented with the Duke University 2023 University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service, along with fellow Trustee Emeritus Roy J. Bostock. The University Medal is the Duke’s highest honor.
Bovender received his bachelor's degree in psychology from Duke in 1967 and his master's degree in hospital administration in 1969. He is the retired chief executive officer of HCA Healthcare, a network of 184 hospitals and about 2,000 sites of care in 21 states and the United Kingdom. He served on the Board of Trustees from 2007–2021 and was chair from 2017–2021.
His many contributions to Duke Divinity School include serving on the Board of Visitors, chairing the Divinity School’s Duke Forward comprehensive campaign, funding scholarships, and endowing the Jack and Barbara Bovender Professor of the Practice of Anglican Studies.