The Experts and leading blacks name a select group of female ministers. In a world where traditionally men have ruled the roost and held all the leading positions, its nice to know some women have risen to Top Minister status.
Reference / Ebony / Nov, 1997
IN the most extensive poll of its kind, 15 ministers were named America’s greatest Black women preachers. Here are 9 from the list.
With the commanding leadership of Deborah and Sheba, the courage of Esther, and the clarity of faith of Jarena Lee, Harriet Tubman and Nannie Helen Burroughs, these 15 pastors, evangelists, professors and scholars represent “in the highest degree the great Black pulpit art of passion, eloquence and wisdom.”
Selected by influential Black Americans, EBONY’s Greatest Black Preachers and leading ministers, male and female, the 15 honorees are powerful and prayerful women of faith. The honor is significant in many ways, but particularly because it is the first time that EBONY’s experts have named the top women preachers.
Three of the ministers tied for the first-place positron in the balloting: the Rev. Prathia Hall, the Rev. Carolyn Knight and the Rev. Vashti McKenzie. The trio was closely followed by the Rev. Renita Weems, the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook and the Rev. Ann Lightner-Fuller.
Geographically diverse, the top 15 honorees literally span the country, with one from California, two from New York City and all stops in between. Three of the top 15 preachers hail from Atlanta. Two are from Chicago, two are from Maryland, one from Philadelphia, one from Detroit, one from San Antonio, Texas, and one from Washington, D.C. Since it is impossible, as all respondents said, to limit the list to 15, and since only a handful of votes separated some nominees, all nominees with substantial support are listed in the Honor Roll of Great Preachers.
It is with that understanding and in that context that we present on the following pages 15 ministers who are indisputably among the greatest preachers, Black or White, men or women, in this land.
The Rev. PRATHIA LauraANN HALL, pastor of Mt. Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia, was in “a class of her own,” the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Chicago says, and “lies the gospel to new levels, lifting hearers simultaneously with an understanding of an awesome God that is unparalleled.” A graduate of the Freedom Movement of the ’60s and a descendent of a long line of preachers, Dr. Hall was also dean of African-American Studies and a lecturer in Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. The Rev. Charles W. Adams of Detroit says, “Better than anyone else in the pulpit of her time, she combined the best scholarship with keenly precise Biblical interpretation and passionately persUasive delivery.”
The Rev. VASHTI M. MCKENZIE, pastor of Payne Memorial AME Church in Baltimore, is described as an “electrifying speaker” who is “the epitome of eloquence and dynamic delivery.” Dr. McKenzie is the author of several books on the leadership of women in the church as well as a volume of sermons. The Rev. Otis Moss Jr. called her “an extraordinary person in gifts, skills, education and character.” Another praised her for her “regal elegance…and a majestic application of Scripture to vicissitudes, vagaries, circumstances, and situations of daily urban life.” Several of her fellow ministers said she has the gifts to become the first woman bishop in the AME church.
The Rev. CAROLYN ANN KNIGHT, assistant professor of homiletics at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, was cited as a “gifted, stand-up preacher” who delivers “fresh and fulfilling” sermons. Rev. Knight is the founder and president of “CAN DO!” Ministries, dedicated to youth and young adults. Dean Clarence Newsome of the Howard University School of Divinity says she has “a disciplined but creative way of marshaling eternal truths from heaven to the human heart with a quality of pulpit voice and picturesque speech that is unique to the best of the African-American religious heritage.”
The Rev. RENITA J. WEEMS associate professor of Old Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn., was praised for her ability to make Scripture “come alive to town and gown” and for her “profound understanding of the pain, suffering, aspirations and hopes of African-American women.” In addition to her teaching ministry, Dr. Weems is the author of two books on women’s spirituality and wholeness. Dr. Wright said she “combines the scholarship of a Ph.D. in Old Testament and Hebrew languages with the Deep South’s wisdom of Black women who have known hard times.”
The Rev. SUZAN JOHNSON COOK, founder and senior pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship Church, N.Y., was praised for the seamless construction and creativity of her sermons. Dr. Cook also received high marks for compassion. “She is better than anyone I know in relating the Gospel to the present-day needs of people,” a fellow minister said. Dr. Cook, who was the only minister appointed by President Clinton to the National Advisory Board on Race, is the editor or co-author of several books, including the acclaimed, Sister to Sister: Devotions For and From African-American Women. Another book, on spirituality for women in the workforce, will be released soon. She is “a superb preacher and an excellent writer,” concludes another respondent.
The Rev. ANN FARRAR LIGHTNER-FULLER, pastor of Mt. Calvary AME Church in Towson, Md., was praised for her “deliberate delivery” and her “bold, prophetic style.” Rev. Knight said Dr. Fuller is “particularly gifted in her ability to develop, organize and deliver sermons.” The author of two books, including Desperate People: Sermons for Times Like These, a compilation of some of her sermons, she was praised for “her ability to unlock the meaning of Scripture as applied to daily life. . . layer by layer until you see the heart of the matter.” Dr. Hall said “her sermons inspire and challenge and are delivered with great power.”
The Rev. DELORES H. CARPENTER, senior pastor of Michigan Park Christian Church in Washington, D.C., was cited for powerful preaching with unparalleled spiritual fervor. A professor of religious education at Howard University’s Divinity School who has been preaching since she was 16 years old, she is also the general editor of the African Heritage Hymnal, scheduled for publication in 1998. Dr. Newsome said she has an “electrifying elegance that brings hope and assurance to those wounded and dark places in the soul in need of healing and light.” Another fellow minister said that her sermons, although scholarly, have the singular gift of presenting the Gospel in the language of “working-class people.”
The Rev. CLAUDETTE A. COPELAND, pastor and co-founder of the New Creation Christian Fellowship in San Antonio, Texas, is a “triple threat” says the Rev. Wyatt T. Walker–”She can preach, teach, and sing.” A specialist in the ministry of grief and loss, Dr. Copeland was praised for her oratory and story-telling, for the profound “textual integrity and deliver” of her sermons, and for her ability to “inspire personal transformation” through preaching. An author, she most recently published an essay in the African-American Devotional Bible. Dr. Copeland, a fellow minister, said, she “combines the best of the academic world with the best of the Pentecostal world.”
The Rev. JACQUELINE E. McCULLOUGH, associate pastor at the Elim International Fellowship Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., was called a “powerful Pentecostal” whose “spirit-filled messages speak to the experiences of African-American females and males” and “provides solace, comfort and release.” A religious scholar said the evangelist has “a way of organizing sermonic material to fit a dramatic application of the text to individual pain and hurt”, Rev. McCullough is also the president and CEO of Daughters of Rizpah, a nonprofit evangelistic outreach ministry, and the owner of a Christian bookstore, Biblion–The Family Bookstore, in Brooklyn. The Rev. YVONNE DELK, the first African-American woman ordained by the United Church of Christ, was cited for preaching that is “a bold, courageous, explicit articulation of the Gospel.” Dr. Delk is executive director of the Community Renewal Society, a Chicago-based mission agency related to the United Church of Christ. The author and essayist has taught and lectured in over 100 countries on all seven continents, preaching, according to respondents, with insightfulness, clarity and persuasion, and inspiring a “daring, aggressive expression of the Christian faith.”