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 - Preaching in Delaware
June 24, 1822 I left the city of Philadelphia to travel in Delaware state. I went with captain Ryal, a kind gentleman, who took me to his house in Wilmington, and himself and lady both treated me well. The first night of my arrival; I preached in the stone Methodist meeting house. I tried, in my weak way, to interest the assembly from the 2d chapter of Hebrews, 3d verse - "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation." God was there, as we had the most delightful evidence - and many had their eyes opened to see there was no escape from the second death while out of Christ, and cried unto God for his saving grace. I would that all who have not embraced the salvation offered in the gospel, might examine the question candidly and seriously, ere the realities of the other world break up their fancied security.
In July, I spoke in a School house to a large congregation, from Numbers xxix, 17. Here we had a sweet foretaste of heaven - full measure, and running over - shouting and rejoicing - while the poor errand-bearer of a free gospel was assisted from on high. I wish my reader had been there to share with us the joyous heavenly feast. On the 15th of July I gave an exhortation in the meeting house again to a listening multitude - deep and solemn were the convictions of many, and good, I trust, was done.
The next place I visited was Newcastle. The meeting house could not be obtained, and two young gentleman interested themselves to get the Court house, but the Trustees objected, wishing to know why the Methodists did not open their Church. The reason was "I was not licensed," they said. My two friends waited on me to speak in the Market house, where I attended at early candlelight, and had the pleasure of addressing a few plain truths to a crowded but respectful congregation, from John vii, 46 - "Never man spoke like this man." On Sunday the same young gentlemen invited me to give another discourse, to which I consented, before a large gathering of all descriptions.
From here I proceeded to Christine, where we worshipped in a dwelling house, and I must say was well treated by some of my colored friends. I than returned to Wilmington, where in a few days I had a message to return again to C. My friends said I should have the Meeting house, for which Squire Luden interested himself, and the appointment was published. When the people, met at the proper time, the doors remained locked. Amid cries of "shame" we left the Church steps - but a private house was opened a short distance up the road, and though disappointed in obtaining egress to a Church, the Lord did not disappoint his people, for we were fed with the bread of life, and had a happy time. Mr. and Mrs. Lewelen took me to their house, and treated me, not as one of their hired servants, but as a companion, for which I shall ever feel grateful, Mr. Smith, a doctor, also invited me to call upon them - he was a Presbyterian, but we prayed and conversed together about Jesus and his love, and parted without meddling with each others creeds. Oh, I long to see the day when Christians will meet on one common platform - Jesus of Nazareth - and cease their bickerings and contentions about non-essentials - when "our Church" shall be less debated, but "our Jesus" shall be all in all.
Another family gave me the invitation to attend a prayer meeting. It was like a "little heaven below." From here I walked about four miles that evening, accompanied by the house maid of Mrs. Ford, a Presbyterian, who said she knew her mistress would be glad to see me Mrs. F. gave me a welcome - said she felt interested in my speaking, and sent a note to Methodist lady, who replied that my labor would be acceptable, no doubt, in her Church that afternoon. When I came in, the elder was in the pulpit. He gave us a good sermon. After preaching, this lays spoke of me to the elder; in consequence, he invited me to his pulpit, saying "he was willing that every one should do good." My text was Hebrew ii, 3. Though weak in body, the good Master filled my mouth and gave me liberty among strangers, and seldom have I spent so happy a Sabbath. Mrs. F. had a colored woman in her family one hundred and ten years of age, with whom I conversed about religion - how Christ had died to redeem us, and the way of salvation, and the poor old lady said "she wished she could hear me every day." I also called upon another, one hundred and sixteen years old, who was blind. We talked together about Jesus - she had a strong and abiding evidence of her new birth, and in a few weeks went home to heaven. Here she was long deprived of the light of the sun, and the privilege of reading God's blessed word; but there her eyes are unsealed, and the Sun of righteousness has risen with healing in his wings.
I left Mrs. Ford's and walked about three miles to St. George, with a recommend to a Mrs. Sutton, a noble-minded lady of the Presbyterian order, where I was generously treated. Here I preached in the School house to a respectable company - had considerable weeping and a profitable waiting upon the Lord. I accepted an invitation from a gentleman to preach in a Methodist Church three miles distant - found there a loving people, and was highly gratified at the order and decorum manifested while I addressed them. Mrs. Smith took me home with her, who I found to be a christian both in sentiment and action. By invitation, I went next to Port Penn, and spoke with freedom, being assisted of the Lord, to a full house, and had a glorious feast of the Spirit. The next night found me at Canton Bride, to which place I had walked - spoke in a School house, from Math, xxii, 41 - "What think ye Christ?". The presence of the Lord overshadowed us - believers rejoiced - some were awakened to belive well of Master, and I trust are on their way to glory. In Fields borough, also, we had gracious meetings.
At Smyrna I met brother C.W. Cannon, who made application for the Friend's Meeting house for me, where the Lord blessed us abundantly. We attended a Camp-meeting of the old connexion, and got greatly refreshed for the King's service. I rode ten miles and delivered a message from the Lord to a waiting audience - the Master assisted, and seven individuals, white and colored, prostrated themselves for prayer. Next day I rode to Middletown - spoke in a School house to a white congregation from Isaiah 1xiii, 1, and a good time it was. In the morning at 11 o'clock, I addressed a Methodist Society, and in the afternoon at 3 o'clock, spoke under a tree in the grave yard, by the road side, to a large audience. Squire Maxwell's lady, who was present, invited me home to tea with herself and nieces, and a Quaker lady showed her benevolence by putting into my hand enough to help me on my journey. The Lord is good - what shall I do to make it known? I rode seven miles that night, and gave and exhortation after the minister had preached, and felt happier than a King.
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.