Jarena Lee: Trailblazing African American Preacher and ‘Self-Made’ Woman

One Sunday in 1817, Jarena Lee attended a service at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Philadelphia. A former servant, Lee had become a Christian nearly a decade before—a conversion experience which also awoke her desire to preach. Although she had expressed this calling to church leaders, Lee had never taken the pulpit. Until today.

Originally scheduled to preach, the Reverend Richard Williams was unable to speak the words he had prepared. Impulsively, Lee rose from her seat and addressed the congregation.

“During the exhortation, God made manifest his power in a manner sufficient to show the world that I was called to labor according to my ability, and the grace given unto me, in the vineyard of the good husbandman,” Lee later wrote.

Richard Allen, the African Methodist Episcopal Church founder and denomination bishop who also served as Mother Bethel’s pastor, was in the audience that day. Lee had informed Allen of her aspirations eight years earlier, but he hadn’t felt comfortable letting a woman speak from the pulpit. But that Sunday Allen changed his mind, convinced that God’s gift was operating in her that day. Following this, Lee would embark upon a career of public preaching.

The first African American woman to preach the gospel publicly, Lee preached to racially mixed Methodists, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Wesleyan audiences across the mid-Atlantic states, lower Canada, Cincinnati, Detroit, and New England. What’s more, she did so at a time when slavery was legal and neither African Americans nor women could own property or vote.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Eric Washington

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