Predecessor African American women in the pulpitby Karen Krueger on Feb 27, 2017 in banner/ Staff Insights • • No Comments
by Karen Krueger
Before African-American History Month draws to a close, an interesting post from Howard University School of Divinity here in D.C. crossed my screen.
While today “several respected African-American women preachers and teachers of preachers proudly… [raise] their prophetic voices,” says the Rev. Dr. Kenyatta R. Gilbert, Associate Professor of Homiletics at the Howard University School of Divinity, they do so on the shoulders of predecessors like those highlighted in his article. 1 With names familiar and unfamiliar, these faithful women are an important part of church history.
“The fact is that African-American women have preached, formed congregations and confronted many racial injustices since the slavery era,” Dr. Gilbert writes. “The earliest black female preacher was a Methodist woman simply known as Elizabeth. She held her first prayer meeting in Baltimore in 1808 and preached for about 50 years before retiring to Philadelphia to live among the Quakers.”
Julia A.J. Foote was identified as the first woman to achieve validation as a pulpit leader. “In 1884, she became the first woman ordained a deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion AMEZ Church.” And have you heard of the Rev. Florence Spearing Randolph? “In her sermons, she brought criticism to the broken promises of American democracy, the deceptive ideology of black inferiority and other chronic injustices,” writes Dr. Gilbert of Pr. Randoph’s leadership “during the period of the Great Migration of the 20th century.” 2
When in 2015 the ELCA celebrated 45 years of ordaining women, the Rev. Dr. Cheryl Stewart Pero identified growing in inclusion as especially important for the ELCA. Dr. Pero was the second African American Lutheran woman to be ordained in 1980, 10 years after the ordination of the first Lutheran woman, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Platz. 3 The Rev. Earlean Miller preceded Dr. Pero as the first African American Lutheran woman to be ordained in 1979. 4
“I think the [ELCA] needs to know that they have overlooked women of color,” said Dr. Pero. “I have people who don’t possibly believe that I could be a Lutheran pastor – and that hurts.”
In 2015, Dr. Pero was said to be working on a project with the Rev. M. Wyvetta Bullock of the ELCA staff to highlight the voices of women of color in the ELCA in observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation which we are observing this year. 5
1 “Hidden figures: How black women preachers spoke truth to power,” in Our Conversations blog of Howard Divinity School (February 23, 2017)
2 This information is expanded in a book by the articles author, A Pursued Justice: Black Preaching from the Great Migration to Civil Rights.
3 Pr. Platz is on the roster of the Metro D.C. Synod.
4 Find a photo of the Rev. EarLean Miller and more about her life and ministry written in an article posted to Urban Christian News (December 16, 2014) after her death.
5 “ELCA celebrates 45 years of ordaining women,” ELCA News Release (November 19, 2015)