Women breaking through to top roles in Black churches

Women breaking through to top roles in Black churches

Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is shown at Moody Temple CME Church in Fairfield, Ala., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Jefferson-Snorton is the CME Church’s first and only woman bishop. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

When an opening for bishop arose in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in 2010, Teresa Jefferson-Snorton looked around to see if any women were offering to be candidates.

None were.

She knew that since its founding 140 years earlier by Black Methodists emerging from slavery, the denomination had never elected a woman bishop.

“I was like, oh my goodness, this can’t be,” she recalled. “If no one steps forward, it gives the church a pass.”

Jefferson-Snorton, who had spent decades as a pastor, chaplain and theological educator, undertook several months of intensive prayer before discerning she was “feeling a call to this” from God. Then she put her name forward.

“To an extent, it was a political statement,” said Jefferson-Snorton.

Despite opposition from some who said the denomination wasn’t ready for a woman bishop, she was elected the CME’s 59th bishop, overseeing 217 churches across Alabama and Florida.


This story is part of a series by The Associated Press and Religion News Service on women’s roles in male-led religions.


Jefferson-Snorton said people there have come to accept her in the role — if awkwardly at times.

Bishop Teresa Jefferson-Snorton of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church is shown at Moody Temple CME Church in Fairfield, Ala., on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. Jefferson-Snorton is the CME Church’s first and only woman bishop. (AP Photo/Jay Reeves)

“I can’t tell you how many times people said, ‘Yes sir,’ to me,” she said. “I just remind them, ‘Yes ma’am’ is OK.”

Eleven years later, she remains the CME’s only woman bishop, a status made vivid in an official photo of the church’s college of bishops, where she sits among 16 men, all in purple and white vestments.

Most major Black Christian denominations in the U.S. have no doctrinal bar to ordained women leaders in the way that Catholicism and some other denominations do, and women have preached and been ordained in historically Black churches since at least the 19th century.

Yet denominational leadership remained all-male until the 21st century, and women are still the exception in the top rungs.



The Rev. Gina Stewart, senior pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church, leads a worship service Dec. 5, 2021, in Memphis, Tenn. Stewart is the first female president of a major Black Baptist organization, the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)

Earlier this year, the Rev. Gina Stewart became the first woman president of a major Black Baptist organization, the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Society, an organization that responds to disasters and fights poverty, hunger and human trafficking.

“Whenever a woman is placed in a role that is traditionally male, there’s always some negativity that surrounds it,” Stewart said, but in her first 90 days as president, she has received congratulatory calls from some male denominational leaders and support from her male predecessors, without encountering “any major resistance.”

“There’s a shifting taking place,” Stewart said, noting that more women have been promoted to lead important departments in the church.

“We know that it’s long overdue,” added Stewart, who is the senior pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. “But we give those organizations that are making the effort credit, taking the initiative and giving women that opportunity.”

Religious organizations still need to do more to provide women chances for leadership development, said the Rev. Maisha Handy, associate professor of religion and education at the Interdenominational Theological Center, a consortium of historically African American seminaries in Atlanta.

“We’ve certainly made strides around that in recent years, in recent decades, but we still have a long way to go,” said Handy, who is also executive director of the Center for Black Women’s Justice at ITC.

Women pastors often receive assignments to smaller congregations with fewer resources or opportunities to gain experience and preparation for denominational leadership, Handy said.

“It’s not just about ordination. It’s about placement,” said Handy.

When Black denominations got their start in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, according to Handy, their biblical interpretations were affected by the cultural attitudes around them. “When you think about the kind of patriarchy and misogyny that is intrinsic to American history and culture, it makes sense that it was reflected also in those denominations,” she said.

To be sure, women have long exercised authority in non-ordained roles, outnumbering men in local church membership and also leading their own organizations within denominations.

But from the first, women had limited access to the pulpit, though some challenged those barriers.

“If the man may preach, because the savior died for him, why not the woman?” Jarena Lee, the first woman lay preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, asked in the early 19th century.

A sister denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, ordained Mary Small, its first woman minister, in 1898. By the mid-20th century, the CME and AME churches were ordaining women as well. Records are less precise among the more decentralized Baptists, but women’s ordination was long the exception among them.

In 2000, Vashti Murphy McKenzie was elected the first woman bishop in the AME Church. McKenzie, now retired, was later joined by more women bishops, though men still comprise most of the AME episcopacy. The AME Zion Church followed, electing Mildred “Bonnie” Hines bishop in 2008, as did the CME with Jefferson-Snorton in 2010.

Jefferson-Snorton, who in October was elected chair of the governing board of the National Council of Churches, said she is still sometimes questioned about biblical passages that are cited to justify giving men sole power to preach or lead. She cites other passages, such as one declaring that in Christ there is neither male nor female.

“I often start with the story of Resurrection morning,” when Jesus’ female followers were told to “go and proclaim” he had risen from the dead, she added.

“If Jesus had not intended for women to be bearers of good news, that would never have happened,” said Jefferson-Snorton.

But to those who are “more hostile” in questioning women’s ministry, “I often say to them, ‘God called me to this ministry, so if you have a problem with it, you need to talk to God, because I did not call myself,'” she said.

In the Church of God in Christ, a historically Black Pentecostal denomination, women have made their influence felt in other ways. Traditionally only men have been recognized as ordained ministers or bishops, while women have led its Women’s Department, which oversees auxiliaries. COGIC officials didn’t respond to questions about women’s roles in the denomination.

But after the death of her husband, COGIC’s first elected presiding bishop, Mother Mary P. Patterson, a retired real estate agent who headed her own travel agency, founded the Pentecostal Heritage Connection, dedicated to planting historical markers honoring COGIC leaders across the South. In November, a ceremony unveiling the final marker, an 8-foot aluminum sign on a corner in Little Rock, Arkansas, was attended by regional religious leaders, a representative of the governor and scholars who traveled to the state for the occasion.

Mother Mary Patterson, poses at her dining room table in her Memphis, Tenn., home Dec. 1, 2021. The material on the table was used by Patterson in her recent campaign to post historical markers about Church of God in Christ leaders. In the Church of God in Christ, where only men have traditionally been recognized as ordained ministers or as bishops, women like Patterson have nevertheless played key roles in its Women’s Department — which oversees auxiliaries — and in other ways. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)

Sherry Sherrod DuPree, a Florida historian and former president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies, said Patterson’s effort is an example of how women lead in a denomination known for its patriarchal hierarchy.

“She is a quiet praying lady who ‘stays in her lane’ but is active in getting jobs done without fanfare, one of the skills of COGIC women,” said DuPree.

Patterson said, “it shows other young women that you don’t have to be behind the pulpit in order to do a work for the Lord.”


Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.


Israel to allow 3,000 Ethiopian Jews to immigrate

Israel to allow 3,000 Ethiopian Jews to immigrate

Jerusalem Temple Mount

Jerusalem skyline photo credit Allen Reynolds

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s government on Sunday approved the immigration of several thousand Jews from war-torn Ethiopia, some of whom have waited for decades to join their relatives in Israel.

The decision took a step toward resolving an issue that has long complicated the government’s relations with the country’s Ethiopian community.

Some 140,000 Ethiopian Jews live in Israel. Community leaders estimate that roughly 6,000 others remain behind in Ethiopia.

Although the families are of Jewish descent and many are practicing Jews, Israel does not consider them Jewish under religious law. Instead, they have been fighting to enter the country under a family-unification program that requires special government approval.

Community activists have accused the government of dragging its feet in implementing a 2015 decision to bring all remaining Ethiopians of Jewish lineage to Israel within five years.

Under Sunday’s decision, an estimated 3,000 people will be eligible to move to Israel. They include parents, children and siblings of relatives already in Israel, as well as orphans whose parents were in Israel when they died.

“Today we are correcting an ongoing injustice,” said Pnina Tamano Shata, the country’s minister for immigration and herself an Ethiopian immigrant. She said the program was a response to people who have waited “too many years to come to Israel with their families” and to resolve a “painful issue.”

In a joint statement with Israel’s interior minister, she said the decision came in part as a response to the precarious security situation in Ethiopia, where tens of thousands of people have been killed over the past year in fighting between the government and Tigray forces.

It was not immediately clear when the airlift would begin. The government appointed a special project coordinator to oversee the effort.

Kasaw Shiferaw, chairman of the group Activists for the Immigration of Ethiopian Jews, welcomed Sunday’s decision but said there was still a long way to go.

“On one hand, this decision makes me happy. Three thousand people are realizing a dream and uniting with their families,” he said.

“But it’s not a final resolution. Thousands are still waiting in camps, some for more than 25 years. We expect the government to bring all of them,” he said.


King Richard: An Interview with Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton

King Richard: An Interview with Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton

King Richard is a film honoring the legacy of Richard Williams, father of Tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams which is in theaters everywhere and on HBO Max this Friday, November 19.

The film tells the story of Richard and the Williams family’s remarkable journey from the rough environment of Compton, CA to the fame and fortune of professional tennis stardom. King Richard is the Williams family’s tremendous story of faith, perseverance, and triumph that is truly inspiring. The cast was phenomenal and I left the theater wanting to put into action the value for planning, humility, and passion that the family exemplified.

UrbanFaith sat down with Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton who play Venus and Serena to discuss the experience of bringing the lives of these legends to the big screen alongside Will Smith.

The full interview is above!

Courtesy of Warner Bros.



‘Colin loved the church’: Powell recalled as Episcopalian at cathedral funeral

‘Colin loved the church’: Powell recalled as Episcopalian at cathedral funeral


(RNS) — Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, known as a four-star general and as a onetime secretary of defense, was remembered at his funeral at the Washington National Cathedral Friday (Nov. 5) as a man of the Episcopal faith.

Longtime colleague and friend Richard Armitage, who served as deputy secretary of state under Powell, recalled how their regular 7 a.m. morning calls shifted to 9:30 on Sunday mornings, after his supervisor had returned from church.

“Colin loved the church: He loved the ceremony. He loved the liturgy. He loved the high hymns, which made him extremely happy,” said Armitage, who served with Powell in the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, during the private ceremony that was livestreamed on YouTube.

“And he would answer the same way every Sunday. He said, ‘Oh yes, I was at church. And I want you to know I’m in the state of grace.’ And I would answer the same way every Sunday: ‘Colin, if you’re not in the state of grace, who among us is?’ And that was every day for almost 40 years, the same opening remarks.”

Powell, who died Oct. 18 from COVID-19 complications, was honored at a nearly two-hour private ceremony. Hundreds of people gathered under the cathedral’s neo-Gothic arches, including President Biden and two former presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and their wives, and former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“With faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the body of our brother Colin Luther Powell for burial,” said Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who met the general’s casket at the doors of the cathedral with Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

Some family members of Powell, 84, had key roles in the service that mixed the high church liturgy of the cathedral with the military precision of uniformed service members bearing Powell’s coffin and escorting his family.

His son, former Federal Communications Chairman Michael K. Powell, gave a tribute, along with Armitage and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who preceded Powell in that position. His daughter, Annemarie Powell Lyons, read from the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Micah: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

The Rev. Stuart A. Kenworthy drew on that Scripture as he spoke of Powell’s faith.

“Colin knew his God through all his years,” said Kenworthy in his homily, a role the former Army National Guard chaplain also played at the 2016 funeral of former first lady Nancy Reagan. “His faith was of first importance, and his life was marked by those words of the Prophet Micah.”

He also encouraged those remembering Powell to embrace their Christian faith.

“God raised Jesus so that you and I might share in his resurrection, and if you turn to him and accept him in faith, he will come into you and raise you into that new and eternal life now,” Kenworthy preached. “Just as he has for your beloved Colin, who now stands upon another shore and in a greater light, with that multitude of saints that no mortal can number.”

Prior to the homily, the Rev. Joshua D. Walters, rector of the Powell family’s church in McLean, Virginia, read words of Jesus from the Gospel of John: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”

Congregants, masked during the continuing pandemic, stood to sing the hymns “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” and “Precious Lord.” Soloist Wintley Phipps sang “How Great Thou Art.”

In an earlier statement issued after Powell’s death, Curry noted Powell was a lifelong Episcopalian.

“I pray for his family and all his many loved ones, and I give thanks for his model of integrity, faithful service to our nation and his witness to the impact of a quiet, dignified faith in public life,” the presiding bishop said at the time. “He cared about people deeply. He served his country and humanity nobly. He loved his family and his God unswervingly.”

Though not generally known for his ties to religion, Powell was noted for comments he once made about then-Senator Obama’s faith.

Obama, in a statement released on the day of Powell’s death, spoke of his deep appreciation of Powell’s endorsement of his presidential candidacy when the general had been affiliated with past Republican administrations.

“At a time when conspiracy theories were swirling, with some questioning my faith, General Powell took the opportunity to get to the heart of the matter in a way only he could,” said Obama in the statement, referring to rumors that he was a Muslim.

At the time, Powell said, “The correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian.”

But then Powell added a follow-up: “But the really right answer is, ‘What if he is?’ Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?”

Powell also was among the top picks of likely voters who were religious and considering potential vice presidents when the then-senator was seeking the presidency in 2008.

But Armitage and other speakers mostly put politics aside as they recalled the man who was their friend, family member or colleague.

The former deputy secretary of state noted he and Powell had different preferences for hymns. Armitage recited the final verse of “Rough Side of the Mountain,” which speaks of standing “before God’s throne” when the race of life has concluded.

“Be real quiet,” Armitage told the congregation. “Listen real carefully. And you might hear our savior say, ‘Colin, welcome home. And here’s your starry crown.'”


Nearly half of all churches and other faith institutions help people get enough to eat

Nearly half of all churches and other faith institutions help people get enough to eat

Nearly half of all churches and other faith institutions help people get enough to eat

A church in St. Paul, Minn., distributed food obtained through a USDA program in December 2020. Michael Siluk/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Brad R. Fulton, Indiana University

Almost half of U.S. congregations participate in some kind of food distribution program. While the government’s Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program was helping nearly 42 million Americans purchase groceries in mid-2021, those benefits often don’t cover the full food costs of people facing economic hardship. And not everyone who needs food is eligible for those benefits.

Food banks, food pantries, meal programs and similar initiatives run by churches, synagogues, mosques and other faith-based institutions are among the charitable organizations seeking to fill this gap.

As a social scientist who studies the economic impact of community-based organizations, I have seen even small efforts by local congregations make an outsized difference for people who are experiencing food insecurity – meaning they can’t get enough nutritious food to eat.

Building on my research with Karen Flórez and Kathryn Derose, I have tracked the important role congregations play in getting food to the people who need it. I analyzed data collected through the National Congregations Study – a nationally representative survey of congregations.

This data indicates that in 2018, 48% of U.S. congregations either had their own food-distribution program or supported efforts run by another organization, such as a food bank or food pantry. That’s over 150,000 congregations.

Unlike government programs, these faith-based efforts generally provide help immediately to anyone who shows up, with no questions asked. For example, the Laboratory Church in Indianapolis runs a mobile food pantry. Like most congregation-based food programs, it requires “no qualifications” or extensive paperwork to receive food.

Growing needs

The share of households in this country experiencing food insecurity has ranged from 10% to 15% since 1995. Surprisingly, the problem did not worsen in 2020 despite the economic upheaval triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. The share of food-insecure households stood at 10.5% in 2020, the same level as a year earlier.

One major reason why food insecurity didn’t grow was that the government stepped up. It distributed several rounds of relief and stimulus payments, spent more on SNAP and expanded unemployment benefits.

That aid increase is now drying up. The federal government ended the extra jobless benefits that were keeping many families afloat. States are also starting to put SNAP benefits back on a sliding scale, rather than giving everyone who gets them the maximum level allowed.

With additional help waning and inflation rising, the Biden administration is boosting aid to those in need by permanently increasing the average SNAP benefits above pre-pandemic levels.

However, that change won’t help people who aren’t eligible for those benefits, including immigrants and refugees who have been in the country legally for less than five years.

Some congregations focus on serving immigrants by providing legal assistance, language instruction or help finding jobs. These congregations are the most likely to have food programs: 66% of them are addressing food needs, compared to 48% nationally.

On a scale small and large

Congregational food programs come in all sizes.

Consider Crossroads Community Baptist Church in Whitley City, Kentucky, one of the poorest communities in America. The population of this Appalachian town is about 1,200 people, and the church’s food ministry, the Lord’s Café, gives free groceries to about 400 families. Also, when local kids are out of school in the summer, it feeds lunch to 250 children a day, three days a week.

The Crossroads Church in Cincinnati, a megachurch, operates on a bigger scale. It plans to deliver more than 100,000 Thanksgiving meals to those in need in 2021.

[Over 115,000 readers rely on The Conversation’s newsletter to understand the world. Sign up today.]

And Christian churches aren’t the only faith-based groups stepping up to feed the hungry. At the East Plano Islamic Center in Texas, local residents can pick up what they need from a drive-thru food pantry every Saturday. Similarly, Temple Beth Shalom in Austin, Texas, a Reform Jewish congregation, partners with Meals on Wheels to deliver meals to homebound, disabled and other people who need them.

These efforts are motivated by compassion for the hungry. As the economy bounces back, the government will keep playing a vital role in meeting the needs of Americans. So will thousands of local congregations whose efforts and impact often go unacknowledged.The Conversation

Brad R. Fulton, Associate Professor of Nonprofit Management, Indiana University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Raphael Warnock honored with Four Freedoms award in ‘extra step’ for racial justice

Raphael Warnock honored with Four Freedoms award in ‘extra step’ for racial justice

(RNS) — Sen. Raphael Warnock, who continues to pastor his historic Atlanta church while serving as Georgia’s first Black U.S. senator, has received the Roosevelt Institute’s Freedom of Worship Award in a ceremony focused on racial justice.

“I really felt that the strength of his pastoral voice was unique,” Anne Roosevelt, granddaughter of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and board chair of the institute, told Religion News Service hours before Warnock was honored in a Wednesday (Oct. 13) ceremony.

“And now, he’s in this new role in addition to his role as pastor at the church, but his voice is consistently counseling, teaching, making himself vulnerable in order to help the rest of us make sense of the world,” she said.

Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was once co-pastor, was honored on the same evening with New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. She was awarded the institute’s Freedom of Speech and Expression Award after spearheading the newspaper’s 1619 Project that explored the history and legacy of slavery in the U.S.

The senator, interviewed during the virtual ceremony by Community Change President Dorian Warren, said he views himself as a “pastor in the Senate,” reminding the powerful not to ignore people with no wealth.

Dorian Warren, left, interviews Sen. Raphael Warnock during the Roosevelt Institute’s Four Freedoms Awards, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in a virtual ceremony. Video screengrab

Dorian Warren, left, interviews Sen. Raphael Warnock during the Roosevelt Institute’s Four Freedoms Awards, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in a virtual ceremony. Video screengrab

“For me, faith gets engaged in the messiness of worldly struggle; it’s not hidden behind stained-glass windows,” Warnock said. “You probably could step over (the poor) but you shouldn’t. God warns us not to do that. My work is putting them always at the center. Because in their faces we see the face of God.”

The respective names of the Four Freedoms Awards are taken from fundamental liberties laid out in a 1941 speech to Congress by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was elected to four terms in the Oval Office. He spoke of the “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.”

His granddaughter, 73, said the institute, which has published reports and fact sheets on racial inequities, chose to take an “extra step” toward racial justice through this year’s awards.

“This is one event where we could say, ‘So what does it mean to be an anti-racist giver of awards?’” she said. “And to challenge ourselves and bring it to our own consciousness.”

Anne Roosevelt opens the Roosevelt Institute’s Four Freedoms Awards virtual ceremony, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. Video screengrab

Anne Roosevelt opens the Roosevelt Institute’s Four Freedoms Awards virtual ceremony, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. Video screengrab

Anne Roosevelt acknowledged that African Americans and other people of color were often left out of her grandfather’s New Deal reforms.

“We are still falling short of making sure that we deliver the same benefits of our democracy to every person in our country,” she said.

While Anne Roosevelt’s grandfather and grandmother, Eleanor Roosevelt, were lifelong Episcopalians, she said she was raised Catholic and is not currently affiliated with a denomination. But as a member of the committee that nominated Warnock for his award, she said she appreciates him as a leader and as a person of faith.

“I don’t often reflect on Jesus, but when I do, I picture him being surrounded by the people who followed him,” she said. “He taught them how to live, how to live as the fullest and best expression of humanity. And I feel like Senator Warnock is in that mode.”