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 - Returning to Philadelphia with her son
I had my little son with me, & was very much straitened for money & not having means to procure my passage home, I opened a School & taught eleven scholars, for the purpose of raising a small sum. For many weeks I knew not what to do about returning home, when the Lord came to my assistance as I was rambling in the fields meditating upon his goodness, & made known to me that I might go to the city of Philadelphia, for which place I soon embarked with a very kind captain. We had a perilous passage - a dreadful storm arose, & before leaving the Delaware bay, we had a narrow escape from being run down by a large ship. But the good Lord held us in the hollow of his hand, & in the afternoon of Nov. 12, 1821, we arrived at the city.
Here I held meetings in the dwelling house of sister Lydia Anderson, & for about three months had as many appointments as I could attend. We had many precious seasons together, & the Lord was with his little praying band, convincing & converting sinners to the truth. I continued in the city until spring, when I felt it impressed upon my mind to travel, & walked fourteen miles in company with a sister to meet some ministers, there to assemble, from Philadelphia. Satan tempted me while on the way, telling me that I was a fool for walking so far, as I would not be permitted to preach. But I pursued my journey, with the determination to set down & worship with them. When I arrived, a goodly number of people had assembled, & no preacher. They waited the time to commence the exercise, & then called upon me. I took the 3rd chapter John 14th verse for my text. I had life & liberty, & the Lord was in the camp with a shout. Another meeting was appointed three miles from there, when I spoke from Psalms cxxxvii, 1,2,3,4. My master was with me, & made manifest his power. In the County House, also, we held a meeting, & had a sweet waiting upon the Lord. I spoke from Hebrews ii,3, when the Lord gave me peculiar liberty. At a dwelling house one night I spoke from John vii, 46, when six souls fell to the floor crying for mercy. We had a blessed outpouring of the spirit among us - the God of Jacob was in our midst & the shout of heaven-born souls was like music to our ears.
About the month of February my little son James, then in his sixth year, gave evidence of having religious inclinations. Once he got up in a chair, with a hymn book in his hand, & with quite a ministerial jesture, gave out a hymn. I felt the spirit move me to sing with him. A worthy sister was in the room, who I asked to pray for him. I invoked the Lord to answer & seal this prayer in the courts of heaven. I believed He would & did, & while yet on our knees I was heaven. I believed He would & did, & while yet on our knees I was filled with the fulness of God, & the answer came. I cried out in the joy of my heart - "The dead is alive" & ran down stairs to inform a neighbor. Tears ran down the cheeks of my now happy boy, & great was our rejoicing together. He had been the subject of many prayers, & often had I thought I would rather follow him to his grave than to see him grow up an open & profane sinner like many children I had seen. And here let me say, the promise of the Lord is, "ask & ye shall receive." Dear parents; pray for your children in childhood - carry them in the arms of faith to the mercy seat, & there present them an offering to the Lord. I can say from my own experience, the Lord will hear prayer. I had given James the Bible as Haman gave Samuel to God in his youth, & by his gracious favor he was received. For the further encouragement of fathers & mothers to engage in this blessed work, let me refer them to Ecclesiastes xi, 6; "In the morning sow thy seed, & in the evening withhold not thy hand, for thou knowest not whether shall prosper either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good."
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.