An Ode to ‘Soul Sisters’: African American Religious Women & Their Impact on the Church

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By LaKeshia N. Myers

Representative LaKeshia Myers

In the Christian tradition, Lent is a solemn religious observance commemorating the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, during which he endured temptation. It is a time of reflection and often coincides with one’s abstinence from the things that give us pleasure or which we overindulge. As part of my introspection this Lenten season, I am reflecting on the many women religious who are the backbone of most Christian denominations, yet makeup only a small percentage of their leadership.

As a member of the missionary Baptist denomination, I have been fortunate to be trained and mentored by many women religious who have successfully served the church and its people while subverting religious patriarchy. I listened intently as a child when Dr. Betty Hayes would tell of her challenges when she entered the ministry—told women couldn’t preach and being unwelcome in many churches. I have observed firsthand many protestant women who have defeated the odds—those who have started ministries; those who are now leading successful congregations and women have risen to lead entire denominations (Bishops Vashti Murphy McKenzie and Leah Daughtry come to mind).

In the Catholic faith, Black women religious are often a footnote within the larger landscape of the church, yet they are an essential part of its continued growth. The Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first successful Roman Catholic sisterhood in the world established by women of African descent, have continually educated and served the community for over 192 years. The founder of the Oblate Sisters, Servant of God Mary Lange, is one of four women currently on the road to sainthood by the Catholic Church.

As we continue to celebrate women’s history during the month of March, I encourage everyone to shine a light on the women who make your organizations work. They are often the rank and file, those that take on additional roles and the glue that keeps churches, schools, clubs, and fraternal societies afloat. Take time to salute them and say a warm, “Thank You” for jobs well done.

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