Jarena Lee was the first female preacher of the first African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and inevitably one of the first women to challenge notions of patriarchy in religious culture. When Jarena Lee first met with her pastor (Reverend Richard Allen), she spoke of her call by God to preach the gospel. According to Lee, Allen offered the following discouraging response:
“But as to women preaching ~ he said that our Discipline knew nothing at all about it ~ that it did not call for women preachers.”
Although her request was initially denied, motivated by the “Spirit of God,” she remained determined to preach the gospel. As an itinerant revivalist, Lee spent many years walking throughout the country holding meetings and preaching to both blacks and whites. During a four year time period, she traveled over sixteen hundred miles, and of that number, she walked two hundred and eleven miles.
It is believed that Jarena Lee was born on February 11, 1783. However, detailed information regarding her life is somewhat limited. Basic information relevant to her birth name and date of death, are not of general knowledge. Fortunately, Lee (herself) provided a written account of her life and experiences as a preacher, by publishing her spiritual autobiography. The biography was the first spiritual autobiography by a black female Methodist.The writing and ultimate publishing of her work was an outstanding accomplishment in and of itself, in light of the fact that Lee was virtually self-educated, having attended school for only three months during her lifetime.
Sadly, in considering the contemporary role of women in the church, it is apparent that the socio-religious climate that existed over two hundred years ago, continues to prevail today. Despite the limitations of being both a woman and an African American, Lee effectively pushed the church to rethink its stance on women in ministry. Of course, the notion of women being prohibited from preaching, did not begin with Richard Allen. Many claim the Bible to be the source of the prohibition, with specific reference being given to 1 Timothy 2: 11-15.
Many in the church believe that 1 Timothy serves as proof that women should not have authority in the church, nor should they be allowed to act as teachers, suggesting that because Paul spoke in support of the assignment of women to a submissive role, the modern church should follow suit. Contrarily, others insist that Paul was concerned with the quality of teachings, rather than the gender of the presenter. Can women preach? In actuality, we are currently living the answer to that question.
Visit Minister Sandra Prewitt at: http://www.sandraprewitt.com