Rev. Teresa Hord Owens Becomes First Black Woman Elected To Lead a Mainline Protestant Denomination In North America

Rev. Teresa Hord Owens

[UPDATED: On July 9th during the Disciples of Christ General Assembly in Indianapolis, Rev. Teresa Hord Owens was elected general minister and president of the church denomination. The appointment made Owens the first Black woman to lead a mainline Protestant denomination in North America.]

“Her nomination represents an opportunity for us to continue the important transformation of the church,” said Chris Dorsey, Disciples of Christ president of higher education and leadership ministries. “We seek to be a church that is more inclusive and more holistic, and she is the right person to help us do that.”

Owens, a native Hoosier, was raised in Terre Haute and is a direct descendant of the free people of color who founded the Lost Creek settlement in Vigo County. She has been an active member of the Disciples denomination since she was a young adult, when she and her mother moved to Indianapolis and attended Second Christian, now known as Light of the World Christian Church.

Ministry, for her, is both familiar and familial.

“My paternal grandfather was a Baptist minister in Terre Haute for nearly 30 years. I grew up in church, and even as a young adult I was a very active lay leader and worked with children and youth,” Owens said.

Owens, who is married and has one son, shared that the arts are also a huge part of her family’s life.

“My husband, Walter, was a music teacher and is now the full-time minister of music at Salem Baptist Church in Chicago,” she said. “I love music, I love to sing and I play the piano. When I had the opportunity, I was really involved in the drama ministry in church,” said Owens. When she was still living in Indianapolis, she and her husband wrote a musical entitled “Emmanuel.” Her son Mitchell, a graduate of Berklee College of Music, is a professional composer who has worked with Justin Timberlake, the Chicago Children’s Choir and a Korean record label. 

After working in the corporate world for more than two decades, Owens enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, where she became dean and served for 12 years. She also pastored a small congregation at First Christian Church in Downers Grove, Illinois. “This will be my third career wave, if you will,” she said with a laugh. 

This year marks a number of other significant moments for the history of the church. For one, it is the centennial of the founding of the National Christian Missionary Convention, a gathering of African-American Disciples. In the late 1960s, the group completed its decades-long efforts to merge with the predominately white Disciples of Christ.

“This year we are celebrating 100 years since Preston Taylor, a Civil War veteran, businessman and philanthropist in Nashville, Tennessee, originally born into slavery, formed a ministry among African-American Disciples called the National Christian Missionary Convention. This adds an additional aspect of significance to (Owens’) election this time,” said Nathan Day Wilson, ordained minister in the Disciples Church of Christ and Director of Communications at Christian Theological Seminary.

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SOURCE: The Indianapolis Recorder – Ebony Marie Chappel