Leadership Gallery

The Reverend Canon Robert Chester Spencer Powell, 1938-1981

Only insofar as we can succeed in serving as moral change agents in our community can we look to any role with other Christians around the world in furthering the Kingdom of God.
- Robert Powell


Powell At Desk

Robert Powell at work with the National Council of Churches, c. 1979. Photo courtesy of the National Council of Churches.

Robert Powell was born on December 12, 1938 and devoted the majority of his career to the issues burdening Africa including racism and famine. He graduated from Morehouse College in 1959 with a Bachelor of Arts and by 1964 had earned his Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Arts from Canada’s McGill University. He was ordained to the diaconate in 1963, the same year he received a Licentiate in Theology from Montreal Diocesan Theological College, and to the priesthood in 1964. He went on to receive a Doctor of Divinity degree from Christ Theological Seminary in 1980.

Canon Powell’s service began in 1963 as an assistant curate at Saint Peter’s Anglican Church in Quebec, Canada. In 1966 he became the vicar at Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Newport News, Virginia. From 1969 until his death in 1981, he worked for the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCCC). Here Canon Powell played his greatest leadership role in furthering the Church's work among black Christians worldwide. His primary interest was in addressing the problems of Africa and the work of the African church. While with the NCCC, he served mainly as the chief administrator for the cooperative missions and service conducted by twenty denominations on the African continent through the NCCC. His other positions included Director of the Committee on Ecumenical Scholarships and Theological Education (1969-1972); Mission Director of the Africa Working Group (1972-1973); Executive Director for Strategy, Technical and Area Program Department (1973-1975); and Executive Director of the Africa Committee in the Division of Overseas Ministries (1975-1981). Canon Powell left his lasting legacy in his work with the NCCC.

Working with the Rev. Canon Frederick Boyd Williams and the Rt. Rev. Walter D. Dennis, Powell was instrumental in the formation of a conference for Black Anglicans worldwide. Sadly, Canon Powell died before the first conference was held in 1985. The Conference is now called the Robert Chester Spencer Powell and Walter Decoster Dennis Memorial International Conference on Afro-Anglicanism.

In addition to his work with the NCCC, Canon Powell also served as a Canon for the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Botswana, as secretary of the Diocesan Liturgical Committee, and as a member of the Union of Black Clergy and Laity and the African Academy of Arts and Science. [Sources]