15 Greatest Black Women Preachers: Experts and Leading Blacks Name Select Group of Ministers

Ebony, November 1997 | Go to article overview

15 Greatest Black Women Preachers: Experts and Leading Blacks Name Select Group of Ministers


Experts and leading Blacks name select group of ministers

IN the most extensive poll of its kind, 15 ministers were named America's greatest Black women preachers.

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, is 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 is 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 today, she combines 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. …

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