Jarena Lee is an inspirational woman. Born a free African-American in 1783 New Jersey, Lee grew up among the hard-working poor. She became a Christian under Bishop Richard Allen at Bethel AME in Philadelphia. After her conversion, she felt a strong call to preach, but when she spoke of it to Allen, he confirmed that church tradition did not allow women in ministry, so Lee didn’t bring it up again. In 1811 she married a pastor, Joseph Lee, and she seemed to be dissatisfied with the life of a submissive pastor’s wife. Soon after their second child was born, Joseph Lee died, leaving Jarena Lee alone to raise a two year old and a six month old child. And here’s where the story gets interesting.
Within a year after her husband died, Jarena heard a terrible, terrible preacher, whom she kindly and diplomatically discerned had “lost the spirit.” Her call to preach rose up within her again, and before she realized what she was doing, she had pushed Brother Williams out of the pulpit and was finishing his sermon, doing a much, much better job.
“When in the same instant, I sprang, as by altogether supernatural impulse, to my feet when I was aided from above to give an exhortation on the very text which my brother Williams had taken. I told them I was like Jonah; for it had been then nearly eight years since the Lord had called me to preach his gospel to the fallen sons and daughters of Adam’s race, but that I had lingered like him, and delayed to go at the bidding of the Lord, and warn those who are as deeply guilty as were the people of Ninevah.
I now sat down, scarcely knowing what I had done, being frightened. I imagined, that for this indecorum, as I feared it might be called, I should be expelled from the church. But instead of this, the Bishop [Allen] rose up in the assembly, and related that I had called upon him eight years before, asking to be permitted to preach, and that he had put me off; but that now he as much believed that I was called to that work, as any of the preachers present.”
After that, Jarena Lee defied the odds, itinerating as a black female preacher in a time when neither blacks nor women were safe in American society. Lee even travelled to slave-holding Maryland to preach, boldly proclaiming the Gospel of repentance…a Gospel which included abolition of the evil institution of slavery. May we be so bold as to trust the call to proclaim the the real and whole salvation of Jesus Christ, even in the places we are most likely to be rejected.