First District WIM Celebrates Life of the Rev. Jarena Lee
By Mrs. Angelena Spears, 1st& Episcopal District
The Rev. Jarena Lee would have been proud. Two hundred years after her first sermon, which was preached in 1819 at Mother Bethel Church in Philadelphia, the Women in Ministry of the First Episcopal District honored her legacy this fall.
The program, which highlighted her achievements as the first woman preacher in the AME Church, was held where her ministry began at Mother Bethel. The sermon was centered on the original message Sister Lee preached from Jonah and was delivered in three parts.
The first part was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Natalie Alford, the presiding elder for the Philadelphia District. Dr. Alford said the Jonah story is about the righteousness of God and then spoke about how this story was so important to Lee. “Whenever we run from God, it costs us something,” she noted.
Doctor Alford then expounded on the many interruptions Lee faced in her ministry. These included sickness and having to raise two small children after her husband died.
The second part of the message was a drama presentation given by retired Cheney University (PA) Theater Arts professor Jan Ellis Scruggs. Her first-hand narrative was from Lee’s actual sermon and conveyed her call to preach and the obstacles she faced. This part of the message was intertwined with stirring hymns, including “Hush, Hush Somebody’s Calling My Name” and “Ain’t Goin to Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” which further captured the spirit of the era.
The third part of the sermon was delivered by the Rev. Dr. Erika D. Crawford, the Connectional President of WIM, who said, “Sometimes you will find yourself in the belly of a big fish but know the difference between punishment and preparation. Just because you are in the belly of a fish doesn’t mean God is punishing you. He is [often] preparing you.” She continued by saying,” We don’t preach the Gospel because it is easy—but because it is our assignment.”
A highlight of the program was when the Rev. Dr. Jessica Kendall Ingram, the First Episcopal District Supervisor and also an ordained preacher, was presented with the First Episcopal District AMEWIM Rev. Jarena Lee Trailblazer Award. The inaugural award was presented by the Rev. Dr. Emilygail Dill, the president of the First Episcopal District AMEWIM and the Rev. Dr. Crawford.
The Rev. Dr. Dill said that the Award Committee of the First District WIM had selected Dr. Jessica in recognition of her “trailblazing journey in ministry and her commitment to the advancement of women in ministry.” She said, “[The] Rev. Dr. Jessica Kendall Ingram has forged new paradigms of ministry on her own journey while very intentionally opening doors and creating opportunities for other women preachers to fully utilize their gifts and take their rightful place in the leadership of the AME Church and beyond. She has committed her life to the uplifting of others, and like the Rev. Jarena Lee, she will leave a legacy of courage, compassion and an unwavering commitment to preaching the Gospel of Christ. “
Within her remarks, the Rev. Dr. Ingram noted that she too had initially run from the call of God on her life. “Even at seminary, I said I was called to be a Christian educator,” said Dr. Ingram.
Coincidentally, Dr. Ingram shared, “I preached my initial sermon from Jonah. And the topic was, ‘When God says yes.’”
Other worship participants included the Rev. Dr. Iola Williams, WIM Second Vice President; the Rev. Dr. Jacquita Wright-Henderson, WIM Financial Secretary; the Rev. Karen Dillon, New York Conference; the Rev. Terrilisa Bauknight, New Jersey Conference WIM Coordinator; and the Reverends Gloria Walker, Katherine Brooks, and Carolyn Cavaness of the Philadelphia Conference. The Rev. Cavaness was the coordinator for the 200th Anniversary Celebration.
Mrs. Angelena Spears is the Philadelphia Conference Reporter.