A female AME pastor was finally let inside her church on Sunday after congregants locked her out of the building because of her gender.
Ratona Stokes-Robinson, who was appointed to lead St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Thorofare, New Jersey, on June 30, was forced to preach outside after church officials did not give her the keys to the church building because she is a woman. Her salary was also withheld.
According to The Christian Recorder, the AME's official newspaper, Robinson preached her first sermon inside the church building on Sunday, and Bishop Julius H. McAllister, Sr., Presiding Prelate of the First Episcopal District, reconfirmed her as the pastor. Additionally, the congregation was instructed to hand over the keys to the church building and pay back the salary owed to Robinson.
During the service, which was posted to Facebook, Bishop McAllister told congregants, "Let us forget about ourselves and concentrate on Him and worship today."
When it was Robinson's time to preach, she delivered a message from Psalm 116, which reads in part, "I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live."
Throughout the sermon, Robinson shared her life story and reminded the congregation of the importance of sharing their testimonies of salvation and fellowship with one another.
After Robinson's message, McAllister got up and said, "God has spoken."
"We are indeed a liberated and reconciled people. That is what we are about. That is what we stand for. That is what we preach. That is what we pray. That is what we sing," he said as the church applauded.
During Robinson's exclusion from the church building, several prominent female AME leaders publicly expressed grief over the congregants' actions, The Christian Post reports.
"Imagine all of this is happening to you because you are a WOMAN! Yes, the members have declared they do not want a woman as their pastor, and that's why she's been locked out! I didn't have to imagine, I watched this happen today, and my heart hurts," Orsella Hughes, the pastor of Allen Chapel AME Church – Hartford and executive director of the Prosperity Foundation in New Haven, wrote on Facebook last month.
The Connectional AME Women in Ministry, the professional organization that helps support female leadership in the AME Church, also lamented the situation.
"As we celebrate a woman as President of the Bishops' Council, a woman as President of the General Officers Council, a woman as President of the Presiding Elders' Council, and an all-woman Executive Board of the National Council of Churches (USA), we are greatly distressed to hear of women in ministry concurrently being oppressed by systematic strongholds and discriminatory behavior," the group said in a statement.
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Milton Quintanilla is a freelance writer and content creator. He is a contributing writer for Christian Headlines and the host of the For Your Soul Podcast, a podcast devoted to sound doctrine and biblical truth. He holds a Masters of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary.