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Jareena Lee Essay, Research Paper
Jarena Lee felt imbued with a religious mission in life, and because of this, she bravely
defied the conservative sex biases of the church to become, as she contended, the
?first female preacher of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church?. As an
evangelist, Mrs. Lee sometimes traveled on foot to spread her religious message and
would walk as far as 16 miles to preach. When over forty years old, the unordained
minister logged 2,325 miles on the Gospel circuit. She preached up and down the
Eastern Shore and traveled into sections of Illinois and Ohio, converting blacks as well
as whites to the Christian faith.
Believed to have been born free in Cape May, New Jersey, February 11, 1783,
to parents who were ?wholly ignorant of the knowledge of God,? she left home at the
age of seven to work as a maid sixty miles away. Her first religious experience
occurred relatively late in life–in 1804 when she was twenty-one. Listening to a local
Protestant missionary who was holding services in a schoolroom, she became
overwhelmed by the ?weight of my sins?. Afterward, she contemplated committing
suicide and credited the ?unseen arm of God? with preventing her.
After moving to Philadelphia, she was inspired by the preaching of the Reverend
Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and became
?gloriously? converted to God. Five years later, she experienced a religious
sanctification of mind and spirit and was moved by a vision to preach. She went to see
the Reverend Allen, who informed her that she could hold prayer meetings, but that his
discipline did not call for women preachers. Later writing in her journal, she reflected on
the decision, noting,
?O how careful ought we to be, lest through our by-laws of church
government and discipline, we bring into disrepute even the word of life.
For as unseemly as it may appear now-a-days for a woman to preach, it
should be remembered that nothing is impossible with God. And why
should it be thought impossible, heterodox, or improper for a woman to
preach? seeing the Savior died for the woman as well as for the man.
If the man may preach, because the Savior died for him, why not
the woman? seeing he died for her also. Did not Mary first preach the
risen Savior, and is not the doctrine of the resurrection the very climax of
Christianity–hangs not all our hope on this? Then did not Mary, a woman,
preach the gospel? for she preached the resurrection of the crucified Son
In 1811, she married Joseph Lee, a pastor of a congregation in Snow Hill, a town
six miles from Philadelphia. Feeling that she did not fit into the community, she became
discontented the first year and told her husband she wanted them to move. But
because he felt that his obligation as a minister came first, he refused. Jarena Lee?s
passionate but stifled desire to preach caused her morbid suffering and ill health.
Tragedy beleaguered the family, and five members died within six years, on of whom
was her husband. Two children survived, a two-year-old and a six-month-old baby.
her suppressed calling to preach was miraculously released in the church of
Reverend Allen, where she went to hear the Reverend Richard Williams give a sermon.
In the same course of his preaching, she suddenly discerned that he had ?lost the
spirit?. At that moment, she spang to her feet and gave a stirring exhortation, writing in
her journal later, ?God made manifest his power in a manner sufficient to show the
world I was called to labor according to my ability. Immediately following her sermon,
the Reverend Allen, now bishop of the African Episcopal Methodist Church, rose to
sanction her right to preach.
From that time on, Jarena Lee?s life was dedicated to evangelizing, and as she
did so, she challenged the prejudices against women as ministers of God. To tell
others of her work, she had printed in Philadelphia a pamphlet of twenty-four pages
entitled The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee, a Colored Lady, Giving an
Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel. She kept a journal while traveling which she
combined with her autobiography, and this expanded version appeared in 1894 as
Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee, Giving an Account of Her Call to
Preach the Gospel. She sold her book at church meetings to meet expenses. One
source has categorized it as a ?narrative of her pilgrimage with exhortations to the
faithful and to those who might be falling away, designed, it appears, to make the story
of her life an extension of her preaching.?
Mrs. Lee published the journal herself in Philadelphia after the A.M.E. Book
Concern hesitated on the grounds it was ?written in such a manner that it is impossible
to decipher much of the meaning contained in it.? Since the book questioned sexism in
the church, this could have influenced the all-male book committee?s balking at
publishing it, as well as their request that ?Sister Lee…favored? the members with an
explanation of portions they could not understand.
This enlightening autobiography of a black nineteenth-century female minister
left a literary and spiritual pattern for other women who followed her. I could not find a
record of her death, but there is a questionable listing of another work by a Jarena Lee
in Daniel Murray?s Preliminary List of Books and Pamphlets by Negro Authors, for Paris
Exposition and Library of Congress (1900). This entry indicated that Jarena Lee
published a ninety-three-page work. The Color of Solomon (1895), in Philadelphia. At
the age of 112?
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