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religion entered the 18th Century and with it a revival. The growth of the revival was overwhelming.More people attended church than in previous centuries. Churches from all denominations popped up throughout established colonies and cities within the United States. Religious growth also spread throughout England, Wales and Scotland. This was a time referred to as "The Great Awakening" where people like Jarena Lee got her start preaching.
Evangelism, the epicenter of the movement, preached the Old and New Testament summoned forth parishioners. Churches were erected, both grand and small by the rich and poor, however at this time, it did not matter which class system was inside; everyone was finding comfort in church attendance and the hearing of the word. The largest Protestant groups consisted of Presbyterians, Baptists and Methodists. Those denominations (Anglicans, Quakers, and Congregationalists) established earlier were unable to keep up with this growing Protestant revolution.
In 1787 the Constitution of the U.S. was written. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were both on the committee. They were in agreement that religion was a freedom and religious beliefs should not be dictated to anyone. Many people hailing from England and other countries enjoyed that migrated to the U.S., enjoyed this new found freedom. They were no longer forced to participate and follow the dictate of any particular religion, e.g., Catholicism.
It is here women like Jarena Lee, Anne Howard Shaw Maria W. Stewart began their mission to preach and spread the word of God. Although preachers like Lee popped up throughout the country, most were forgotten because no one wanted to preserve their memory. Brekus states in her work the struggle female preachers faced during this time. "As biblical feminists, they were caught between two worlds. Revolutionary in their defense of female preaching, yet traditional in their theology, they had been too radical to be accepted by evangelicals, but too conservative to be accepted by women's rights activists."
Female preachers couldn't fit into any particular group and so were left in the past. People however, decided to revive the female preacher movement and bring life back to the women who served God. Jarena Lee was the first among them.
Although many great women before her and after her impacted the lives of women, it was Lee who was one of the first of her time to rebel against the religious system. She preached when it was restricted not just on women, but on blacks. She lived in a time where she could be kidnapped, sold to slavery, and possibly killed. But that did not stop Jarena Lee from fulfilling her mission, her calling in life to preach.
Jarena Lee is known for walking at least ten miles a day through the North and in Ohio to preach. She converted and preached to a crowd of both whites and blacks without hostility or violence threatened upon her. She was always a compassionate and caring individual who would at times visit the sick or dying and stay with them for hours reciting Biblical verses and hymns. But how did Jarena's desire to preach came to be?
Jarena Lee felt a deep connection to religion early in life. Because of this, she was able to rebel against the conservative sex biases of the church to become one of the first female preachers of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. As an evangelist, Mrs. Lee traveled on foot to preach would walk as far as 16 miles in a day. At 40, the un-ordained minister logged 2,325 miles on the Gospel circuit.
The origins of her start as a preacher happened around 1850, at the annual meeting of the Philadelphia Conference of the A.M.E. Church. It was here a group of women decided to form an impromptu organization dedicated to God's mission. Their purpose in the eyes of historians, was to make appointments from their ranks to preaching stations in the Philadelphia Conference. Jarena Lee, most likely, was among the group of ecclesiastical insurgents.
The organization did not last and in the next General Conference of the church in 1852, a resolution licensing women to preach was turned down by a large majority of the delegates. Albanese states on page 7 of her book the possible role Jarena played as well as the lack of records on her. "Jarena Lee's role in these debates, and in the rising agitation among black women in the A.M.E. Church for equality of access to the pulpit, has not been recorded in the standard histories of black Methodism."
She was as some might say, a ghost at the beginning of this movement. But it was in her later actions and the stories of her origins that people can find the true source of her existence and her impact.
Jarena Lee, like most people, was lost early on in her life. She went through a poor childhood and worked as a servant in her youth. Her pain was so great that at one point she wanted to kill herself to end her suffering. In her own words, she states her attempts at committing suicide. Page 6 of her book mentions this: " I seemed to hear the howling of the damned, to see the smoke of the bottomless pit, and to hear the rattling of those chains, which hold the impenitent under clouds of darkness to the judgement of the great day."
The reason behind her wanting to kill herself were due in part to the words spoken by a local Protestant missionary. As described in Haywood: "Shortly after this second incident, Lee "was beset to hang [herself] with a cord suspended from the wall enclosing the secluded spot...living during the Aftermath of the Second Great Awakening, she was surrounded daily by the religious fervor it aroused."
His words reminded her of her sins and the weight of her mistakes, igniting guilt and regret deep within her. Ultimately Lee was prevented from committing suicide thanks to the "unseen arm of God" (at least in her words).And after moving to Philadelphia, she was inspired by the preaching of the Reverend Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and became a faithful believer of God.
Five years later, she experienced a vision which sparked her decision to begin preaching.She went to see the Reverend Allen who informed her that she could hold prayer meetings. Although she had permission to held prayer meetings, because their discipline did not call for female preachers, she was restricted in what she could do. She would detail in her journal the limitations placed upon her as a preacher and the role God had in her facing these obstacles and fulfilling her desire to spread the word of God.
Excerpts from her journal show how she used the bible to argue against the exclusion of women in religion:
"And why should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to preach? seeing the Savior died for the woman as well as for the man. If the man may preach, because the Savior died for him, why not the woman? seeing he died for her also. Did not Mary first preach the risen Savior, and is not the doctrine of the resurrection the very climax of Christianity -- hangs not all our hope on this? Then did not Mary, a woman, preach the gospel? For she preached the resurrection of the crucified Son of God."3
She eventually married Joseph Lee, a pastor, in 1811 and quickly became disheartened during her first year of marriage. She wanted badly to preach. Her stifled desire attributed later on to health problems and depression. In six years, she experienced a lot of death within her family. Her husband died along with a few others. However, two children managed to survive, a two-year-old and a six-month-old baby and that kept her strong enough to go after her passion, preaching.
Reverend Allen Williams sparked that passion by "losing the spirit" when giving his routine sermons. It was this instance that sprang Lee to give a stirring exhortation that she proclaimed made God manifest his power in her in a way to show the world her ability. Moved by her speech, Reverend Williams rose to sanction her right to preach. A quote from Sennet shows: "Upon hearing Bishop Richard Allen preach one afternoon in 1804, Jarena Lee (b. 1783) embraced the opportunity to unite with the African Methodists of Philadelphia. Some five years later she felt the call to preach and entered upon a charismatic ministry that would carry her to many parts of the African-American Methodist connection."
From that time on, Jarena Lee's life became dedicated to evangelizing, challenging the prejudices against women as ministers of God.
Women faced great hardship in attempting to preach the word of God. They were met with resistance even in the white churches and were denied positions based solely on their gender. As mentioned by Raboteau, Jarena Lee was one of the first to pursue her calling. "One of the first black…[continue]
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