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 - "A speaking woman is like an ass" - in New Jersey
In November, I journeyed for Trenton, N. J. At Burlington I spoke to the people on the Sabbath, and had a good time among them, and on Monday the 12th, in a school house. Sister Mary Owan, who had laid aside all the cares of the world, went with me. We had no means of traveling but on foot, but the Lord regarded us, and by some means put it into the heart of a stranger, to convey us to the Trenton bridge. We fell in with the elder of the circuit, who spoke to me in a cold and formal manner, and as though he thought my capacity was not equal to his. We went into the sister's house, where we expected to stay, and waited a long while with our hats and cloaks on, before the invitation to lodge there was given. In the morning I had thought to visit Newhope, but remained to discharge my duty in visiting the sick and afflicted three or four days in the neighborhood. I was invited to a prayer meeting, and was called upon by a brother to speak. I improved the offer, and made some remarks from Kings xviii, 21. One of the preachers invited me to approach for them on sixth day evening, which I complied with much power, and before an attentive congregation; when God followed the word with much power, and great was our joy. On the 17th I spoke in the morning at 11 o'clock. I felt my weakness and deficiency for the work, and thought "Who is able for these things," and desired to get away from the task. My text was Timothy vi, 2-7. The Lord again cut loose the stammering tongue; and opened the Scriptures to my mind, so that, glory to Gods dear name, we had a most melting, sin-killing, and soul-reviving time. In the afternoon I assisted in leading a class, when we found the Lord faithful and true - and on the same evening I spoke from Hebrews ii,3.
The next day, sister Mary Owan and Myself set out for Newhope, where we arrived, after walking sixteen miles, at about six o'clock in the evening. Though tedious, it was a pleasant walk to view the high mountain and towering hills, and the beauty and variety of nature around us, which powerfully impressed my mind with the greatness and wisdom of my Maker. At this place I stop at the house of the gentleman with whose wife's mother I was brought up, and by whom we were agreeably received. The next evening we called upon brother Butler, where I addressed a small company, and God, through his words, quickened some. The next night I spoke in an Academy to a goodly number of people, from John iii, 14. Here I found some ever ill-behaved persons, who talked roughly, and said among other things, "I was not a woman, but a man dressed in female clothes." I labored one week among them, and went next to Lambertsville, where we experienced kindness from the people, and had a happy time and parted in tears.
I now returned to Philadelphia, where I stayed a short time, and went to Salem, West Jersey. I met with many troubles on my journey, especially from the elder, who like many others, was averse to a woman's preaching. And here let me tell that elder, if he has not gone to heaven, that I have heard that as far back as Adam Clarke's time, his objections to female preaching were met by the answer - "If an ass reproved Balaam, and a barn-door fowl reproved Peter, why should not a woman reprove sin?" I do not introduce this for its complimentary classification of women, with donkeys and fowls, but to give the reply of a poor woman, who had once been a slave. To the first companion she said - "May be a speaking woman is like an ass - but I can tell you one thing, the ass seen the angel when Balaam didn't."
Not withstanding the position, we had a prosperous time at Salem. I had some good congregations, and sinners were cut to the heart. After speaking in the meeting house, two women came up into the pulpit, and falling upon my neck cried out "What shall I do to be saved?" One said she had disobeyed God, and she had taken her children from her - he had called often after her, but she did not hearken. I pointed her to the all-atoning blood of Christ, which is sufficient to cleanse from all sin, and left her, after prayer, to his mercy. From this place I walked twenty-one miles, and preached with difficulty to a stiff-necked and rebellious people, who I soon left without any animosity for their treatment. They might have respected my message, if not the poor weak servant who brought it to them with so much labor.
"If they persecute you in one city, flee into another,"was the advice I had resolved to take, and I hastened to Greenwich, where I had a lively congregation, had unusual life and liberty in speaking, and the power of God was there. We also had a solemn time in the meeting house on Sabbath day morning, and in a dwelling house in the evening; a large company assembled, when the spirit was with us, and we had a mighty shaking among the dry bones.
On second day morning, I took stage and rode seven miles to Woodstown, and there I spoke to a respectable congregation of white and colored, in a school house. I was desired to speak in the colored meeting house, but the minister could not reconcile his mind to a woman preacher - he could not unite in fellowship with me even to shaking hands as Christians ought. I had visited that place before, when God made manifest his power "through the foolishness of preaching," and owned the poor old woman. One of the brothers appointed a meeting in his own house, and after much persuasion this minister came also. I did not feel much like preaching, but spoke from Acts viii, 35. I felt my inability, and was led to complain of weakness - but God directed the arrow to the hearts of the guilty - and my friend the minister got happy, and often shouted "Amen,"and my "as it is, sister." We had a wonderful display of the spirit of God among us, and we found it good to be there. There is nothing too hard for the Lord to do. I committed the meeting into the hands of the elder, who afterwards invited me to preach in the meeting house. He had said he did not believe that over a soul was converted under the preaching of a woman - but while I was laboring in his place, conviction seized a woman, who fell floor crying for mercy. This meeting held till 12 or 1 o'clock. O how precious is the sound of Jesus' name! I never felt a doubt at this time of my acceptance with God, but rested my soul on his every promise. The elder shook hands, and we parted.
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.