Influential Black Women Leaders In the African-American Faith Community


The Right Rev. Barbara C. Harris is the first woman to be ordained a bishop in the Episcopal Church of the United States. An educator, musician and civil rights activist, she directed public relations for Sun Oil Company before entering the ministry. Harris was ordained a deacon in 1979, a priest in 1980 and consecrated as bishop in 1989. She retired in 2003 and was succeeded by another African American woman, the Rev. Gayle E. Harris.

The Right Rev. Mildred B. Hines is the first woman elected to the episcopacy of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion denomination. She was serving as pastor of First AME Zion Church in Los Angeles when elected in 2008. Previously, she led several AME Zion parishes throughout the U.S. and taught at USC’s School of Religion. Currently, she supervises the denomination’s Southwestern Delta Episcopal District, which includes churches in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Texas, and West Tennessee.

The Right Rev. Leontine Kelly was the first African American woman bishop in the United Methodist Church. Elected in 1984, she was often called “the spiritual mother of clergywomen.” Kelly was previously a public school teacher as well as an active UMC lay leader in the 1960s before her ordination as deacon in 1972, followed by elder in 1977. She served in the San Francisco Episcopal Area until her retirement in 1988. Kelly passed away in 2012 in Oakland, CA, at the age of 92.

Dr. Barbara McCoo Lewis is assistant general supervisor and chairperson of Executive Business Affairs for the International Department of Women of the Church of God in Christ, Inc. She co-founded New Antioch Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles with her husband, Bishop James Lewis, in 1970. She has received numerous honors from elected officials for her community outreach efforts in Los Angeles and is acclaimed for her monthly urban initiative workshops and empowerment conferences for women.

The Right Rev. Vashti McKenzie is the first woman bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal denomination. She was elected in 2000 and currently serves as the presiding prelate of the 10th Episcopal District. The author of five books, McKenzie was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the inaugural White House Advisory Council of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Also, the Huffington Post named her as one of the 50 most powerful women religious leaders in the world.

Dr. Betty Price co-founded Crenshaw Christian Center (CCC) with her husband, Apostle Frederick K.C. Price, in 1973. The author of six books, she inspired thousands with her memoir detailing her successful triumph over cancer. Through CCC, Price has established food, clothing and prayer ministries along with outreach programs to aid people battling substance abuse, domestic violence, and depression. She also established the Vermont Village Community Development Corporation to restore that South Los Angeles neighborhood.

Source: LA Sentinel