Jarena Lee, an African American preacher, was born (free) in 1873 and worked as a servant girl in the home of a white family 60 miles from where she lived. As a teenager, she moved to Philadelphia where she heard the preaching of Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and surrendered her life to the Lord. She soon heard the Lord telling her calling her, “Preach the Gospel, Preach the Gospel! I will put the words into your mouth.” When she told Allen, he denied her request to become a preacher saying that women could not preach in the Methodist Church.
In 1711, she married Joseph Lee, a pastor at a nearby AME church. Her husband did not want her to preach either, so she was forced to put her sense of God’s calling on hold. Joseph died after six years of marriage.
Back at her mother church, one Sunday the preacher who was speaking on the book of Jonah, seemed to lose the thread of his talk. Jarena recounts in her autobiography:
“When in the same instant, I sprang, as by altogether supernatural impulse, to my feet, when I was aided from above to give an exhortation on the very text which my brother Williams had taken. … I now sat down, scarcely knowing what I had done, being frightened. I imagined, that for this indecorum, as I feared it might be called, I should be expelled from the church. But instead of this, the Bishop [Allen] rose up in the assembly, and related that I had called upon him eight years before, asking to be permitted to preach, and that he had put me off; but that now he as much believed that I was called to that work, as any of the preachers present.”
Jarena Lee was the first woman preacher in the AME church, but despite the blessing of Richard Allen, continued to face opposition, not just because she was black, but also because she was a woman. She traveled thousands of miles on foot, evangelizing and preaching. In one year alone, she traveled 2,325 miles and preached 178 sermons.
Here’s what she writes in her autobiography about her call to preach:
“O how careful ought we to be, lest through our by-laws of church government and discipline, we bring into disrepute even the word of life. For as unseemly as it may appear now-a-days for a woman to preach, it should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God. And why should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to preach? seeing the Saviour died for the woman as well as for the man.
“If the man may preach, because the Saviour died for him, why not the woman? Seeing he died for her also. Is he not a whole Saviour, instead of a half one? as those who hold it wrong for a woman to preach, would seem to make it appear.”