African American History Forum
Jarena Lee - Black History
Jarena Lee (1783-c.1850), born free in Cape May, New Jersey, became a devout Christian when she was about twenty-one and felt herself called to preach seven years later. Though filled with fear and trembling over something so rare, a woman preacher, she obeyed the Holy Spirit and set about heeding the call in decency and order. This meant getting the blessing of the senior minister of her church, Richard Allen, co-founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and pastor of its first church, Philadelphia's Mother Bethel. Reverend Allen did not sanction Lee's call, claiming that the Methodist church "did not call for women preachers."
A few years later, Lee, even more intent on preaching, again sought Allen's blessing. This time Allen, now Bishop Allen (with the A.M.E. Church now an independent denomination), granted Lee permission to hold prayer meetings in her home and then to be ordained a preacher.
In the years to come, Jarena Lee preached not only in Philadelphia and its environs, but also all around the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states. Ohio was the farthest West she journeyed. In her travels, she sometimes teamed up with other evangelists. One of them was Zilpha Elaw (c.1790-1846), whose autobiography Memoirs of the Life, Religious Experience, and Ministerial Travels and Labors of Mrs. Zilpha Elaw was published in 1846. Jarena Lee had published her testimony a decade earlier: The Life and Religious Experiences of Jarena Lee, a Coloured Lady, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel, an expanded edition of which Lee put out in 1849, a year before her death.