Learning about a faith-filled woman, Prathia Hall
  • One woman’s happiness causes others to smile
  • Preserving honored history and sacred space
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    Soul Rythem

    First woman pastor makes history joyous

    Within the sacred walls of the century-old St. Paul Baptist Church in Philadelphia, history happened Sunday when a 39-year-old brilliant, beautiful black woman donned a new robe as the church’s fifth pastor.  It was a first for the 119-year-old church, and, hopefully, a sign of things to come for the traditional black church, which has been slow to call women to lead from the pulpit.

    Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan’s joyous installation service was the culmination of a three-year search, which church officials said was bathed in prayer and fasting. Her selection in May over a male candidate has been heralded as “historic” many, many times over.

    A long procession of robed clergy from Philadelphia and beyond marched into the sanctuary, bearing witness to “the Lord’s doing.” Quite noticeable among the dozens of preachers and prominent theologians was the number of young black women who were rejoicing with their sister in the ministry and perhaps getting a glimpse of new possibilities for their own futures. I marveled along with them at God’s great faithfulness.  st.paulandcallahan

    It was a “historic occasion in the life of St. Paul,” one male speaker proclaimed in the floor- to-balcony-packed sanctuary.  “A historic appointment,” said another.   “St. Paul vibrated history,” added one female pastor.  

    “My prayer is that the city, nation and world will look at St. Paul as a model,” remarked yet another.

    A new leadership model is sorely needed for the African American church. While the number of black women graduating from seminary has increased significantly over the last 20 years, many trained women have been denied opportunities to pastor in some mainline denominations.  Church tradition, Scripture interpretation and sexism factor among the reasons.  

    In some cases black women ministers have  joined more accepting white denominations, while other black women in increasing numbers have started their own churches.  And even that is not without it problems as some men and women still struggle with having a woman overseeing their spiritual development.

     For most of my life, I’ve attended churches led by male pastors. Currently I have a female pastor, Rev. Dr. Cynthia T. Turner, who is an anointed preacher and an insightful teacher. More than four years ago, as a leader of the transition committee for our church, I prayed long and hard when the church was considering her candidacy. I had to deal with my own tradition-bound views of being in a church led by a woman, and a younger one at that.  Ultimately, though, I trusted that God would make the final decision for the Dayspring Community Church.  

    Over time, I have come to believe that more than anything God is looking for persons, irrespective of race, gender or age, who will lead His people according to His word and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Yes, I did say “His.” I know that some may raise an arched brow to such gender specificity, but that’s a different blog.)

    “Things are changing in the world, things are changing in the nation, things are changing in the church, so this is representation of that change here in Philadelphia,” Rev. Callahan said in a local television interview.

    Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan

    Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Callahan

    Let’s continue to pray that more churches will change so that there will be fewer historical moments such as the one rightly celebrated at venerable St. Paul, which is known as “the miracle on 10th Street.”

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