Preacher – 24 January 2022
Here is a portrait of a woman called Jarena Lee. She was a preacher. She is dressed modestly in a dark dress, wrapped in a clean white cotton shawl, with a pristine cap on her head. Her clothes signal her virtue and holiness.
Jarena is shown sitting quietly at a table, preparing a sermon. She has begun to write, but has stopped to think and listen for the voice of God. The source of her inspiration is indicated by her eyes, raised upwards (towards heaven). On the table next to her are notes and study materials, including a bible.
Jarena Lee was the first woman lay preacher of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Born free, she voiced her concern for the immorality of slavery, first preaching in 1819. She was part of the Second Great Awakening, and influential in the Wesleyan- Holiness movement.
The image here is a lithograph by P S Duval (1849) which was included as the frontispiece at the publication of Jarena Lee’s journal. The journal describes Jarena’s religious experiences, including the call to preach, and her theological justification for such a ministry exercised by a woman. She was the first woman to have an autobiography published in the United States.
‘Between four and five years after my sanctification, on a certain time, an impressive silence fell upon me, and I stood as if someone was about to speak to me, yet I had no such thought in my heart.—But to my utter surprise there seemed to sound a voice which I thought I distinctly heard, and most certainly understood, which said to me, “Go preach the Gospel!” I immediately replied aloud “No one will believe me.” Again, I listened, and again the same voice seemed re-say—“Preach the Gospel; I will put words in your mouth, and will turn your enemies to become your friends.” ‘
Jarena Lee, Religious Experience (Philadelphia: 1849)
The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
My gracious Master and my God,
assist me to proclaim,
to spread thro’ all the earth abroad
the honours of your name.
Charles Wesley (1739), from O for a thousand tongues