Jarena Lee was the 1st woman to preach under the auspices of the AME church. The child of free black parents, Lee was born in New Jersey in 1783, & worked as a servant in the home of a white family, 60 miles from her home. Strongly affected when she went to hear Richard Allen preach, Lee determined to preach herself. At first rebuffed by Allen, who said that women could not preach at the Methodist Church, Lee persisted; & 8 years after his initial refusal, Allen allowed her access to the pulpit after hearing her spontaneous exhoration during a sermon at Bethel AME Church. Lee traveled all over the United States preaching her gospel of freedom, even venturing into the South to preach to slaves. The following is a segment of her journey written in her own words.
Jarena Lee (1783-1857), Preacher of the A.M.E. Church, Aged 60 years in the 11th day of the 2nd month 1844, Philadelphia 1844
Jarena Lee - Camp Meetings & Princeton
I left Philadelphia again for Lewistown, Del., to attend a camp meeting of the African Methodist Episcopal connexion, of which I was a member, to be held in Gov. Paynter's Woods. There was immense large congregations, and a greater display of God's power I never saw. The people came from all parts, without distinction of sex, size, or color, and the display of God's power commenced from singing; I recollect a brother Camell standing under a tree singing, and the people drew high to hear him, and a large number were struck to the ground before preaching began, and signs and wonders followed. There appeared to be a great union with the white friends. James Towson was the Elder holding the camp; he was in the bloom of the gospel of Christ. But poor brother, may the Lord give him a Peter's look by the way of mercy. Right Rev. Bishop Allen was present. The ministry were all for me, and the Elder gave me an appointment, and the Governor with a great concourse came to hear the weak female. My heart beat, my limbs trembled, and my voice was faint, but I spoke from Eccles. xi, 9, 10. After I took my text, it appeared to me as if I had nothing to do but open my mouth, and the Lord filled it, consequently I was much encouraged: it was an immense assembly of people.
After the camp-meeting was over, the Elder visited another campmeeting, and left me in liberty to preach around the circuit, which I did, and afterwards returned to Lewiston, and spoke in the old Methodist meeting-house; I had a great time a among my colored brethren. I feel thankful to my friends for their kindness to me, especially to brother Peter Lewis, whose house was a home to me. I had much happiness in leading class and prayer meetings; preaching the gospel seemed to be the great task.
Brother Lewis conveyed me to Georgetown; I spoke in our colored people's Church, and we enjoyed ourselves very much; the Lord drew people from all quarters; a wonderful outpouring of the Spirit indeed; weeping in all directions It is a good sign to see tears of contrition stealing down the cheeks of the hearers; it makes me believe the word is sanctioned. The last place was at the head of the river; I then returned to Lewiston, and a few days I left for Philadelphia...
After a short stay in the city, I took a visit to Trenton, Dec. 25. I spoke as usual, for there we had lively meetings, after which I had no home, but the Lord provides, for sister Roberts and family were my friends and took me in, and we often had sweet counsel together.
From there I went to Princeton. The Elder, Joseph Harper, of our connexion, was a friend to me, but I had to withstand a beast at Princeton, in opposition, like the one I had to front on Bucks county circuit; the former named Thomas Voris, a local preacher, and using the language of the Psalmist prophesying in reference to the Saviour, "mine equal my guide hath lifted up his heel against me." We had preached - he invited me to come to his house to hold meetings the next week, but I was taken sick for a few days, but in the interval, S.R., of Attleborough Circuit, had a Quarterly meeting. They consulted together to stop me from preaching in Princeton; so his door was shut, but bless the Lord, another was opened, Brother Thomas Vinsant, his sister's husband, a Christian man, opened, his house. We had a powerful time. I came in the town on Saturday, the next day I walked two miles and spoke twice it was Thomas' appointment on Sabbath morning, and he had but two persons to meet him in class.
An invitation came to me to make an appointment for Wednesday night in the Coloured Presbyterian Church, upon the grant of Rev. Mr. Woodhall, elder of that order in Princeton. Thos. Vorris, though a Methodist, was like a roaring lion - went to Elder Woodhall for him to stop it, as I was informed. But the meeting went on, it was a respectable, and comfortable congregation. I preached and led class and prayer meetings, and read, and explained the Scriptures. We had mourning and rejoicing, and I saw the kingdom of Satan fall. When Brother J. H. came round again, from some cause, he removed Thomas from that class, as they would not meet him, and placed him over one of five or six persons; also impeached him, taking his license from him, and left him only verbally licenced. Glory to God for his Divine power. I do not rejoice for his downfall, but for God's grace which enables me to stand against the enemies of the Cross. Glory to God, I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation. I spoke from Ephe. 2d chap. 8th ver. I felt life and liberty in word and doctrine. Thank God for the victory, Brother Oakham, one of the Elders of the Coloured Presbyterian Church, invited me to their house, and himself and wife treated me like Christians, which, I believe, they were; my heart glows toward them. I held a meeting in a dwelling house.
From - Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs Jarena Lee, Giving an account of her call to preach the Gospel. Revised & Corrected from the Original Manuscript, written by herself Philadelphia, Printed & Published for the Author, 1849 Entered according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1836
Jarena Lee (1783-1857) was an evangelist for the AME church in the first half of the 19th century. In 1816, Richard Allen (1760-1831) and his colleagues in Philadelphia broke away from the Methodist Church and founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which, along with independent black Baptist congregations, flourished as the century progressed. Richard Allen allowed women to become evangelists and teachers but not church leaders. Jarena Lee was the 1st female to preach in the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. Born in Cape May, New Jersey, she moved to Pennsylvania, when she married in 1811. She had felt called to preach as early as 1809, & revealed her wish to church leader Richard Allen, who responded symapthetically, but explained that the AME Church was silent on the question of women preachers. In 1817, an "ungovernable impulse" led her to rise in Bethel Church & deliver an extemporaneous discourse that so impressed Bishop Allen; that he publically apologized for having discouraged her 8 years earlier. With this verbal liscense from the bishop, Lee began her evangelical ministry, traveling hundreds of miles, often on foot, to preach before all races & denominations, at churches, revivals, & camp meetings. She traveled as far west as Ohio. Although she was never officially licensed & never organized any churches, her ministry aided in the rapid growth of the AME Church before the Civil War. By 1846, the A.M.E. Church, which began with 8 clergy & 5 churches, had grown to 176 clergy, 296 churches, & 17,375 members.