As he walked toward Deborah, Dukes stopped abruptly, turned around and headed back to the podium.
“I am going to leave that alone,” he exclaimed as members of the congregation laughed.
From the tribute to Dukes’s wife to requesting that worshipers fan out across the area to commit acts of love and kindness, this has been Show Some Love Week at Harvest Life Changers Church. On Valentine’s Day, the church hosted “Marriage Enrichment Night” to help worshipers cultivate strong unions.
For the Dukeses, love goes much deeper than sweet songs and church-sponsored events. Even though they preach together as leaders of an 8,000-member congregation and are in the midst of building a $50 million sanctuary, the couple find the time to stoke the flames of a romance that began in the hallways of the District’s Dunbar High School.
“Our honeymoon has never ended,” said Lyle Dukes, looking into his wife’s eyes as they sat on a couch at their home last Sunday. But Deborah joked that their daughter, son-in-law and grandsons, Malachi and Jeremiah, spend more time in their house than they do, given the demands of their ministry.
The Dukeses are part of small group of power couples who lead some of the largest churches in the Washington area. These are megachurches with multimillion-dollar budgets, hundreds of ministries and thousands of worshipers who attend services in shifts. Their leaders include the Revs. Grainger Browning Jr. and Jo Ann Browning, who co-pastor the 8,000-member Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, and Bishop Alfred Owens and pastor Susie Owens, who lead the Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast Washington, which has more than 7,000 members.
“This ministry has to be grounded in love and communication and caring enough about the other person that you are willing to make sacrifices for their well-being and advancement,” said Grainger Browning, a former history teacher from Boston who accepted the call to preach while the couple were dating.
Jo Ann Browning said their relationship goes beyond love. “It is the understanding that God has put us together to be married and to be in ministry from the very beginning. I prayed and fasted for when he was called to the ministry, and he prayed and fasted for me when I struggled with the call,” she said.
“Our faith and love for God and to serve people is part of where we are going and why we do what we do. Even though we have our differences, we are just going down the same streets.”
Jo Ann said she and her husband try to leave church matters at church and make their home “a place of refuge and relaxation. I will come home and cook and call everyone to the table. Marriage, mothering and ministry was always the order for me.”