My denomination, The Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), and many others have been ordaining women for decades. Yet, even churches in denominations that ordain women resist nominating or recruiting women for senior pastor positions. It’s often even more difficult for women of color to find pastoral positions.
Nevertheless, women of color called to pastoral ministry have found ways to navigate treacherous waters. Many have risen to positions of authority in my and other denominations. And, beyond the good work God has already done and is currently doing for women of color, we are confident that he will raise up still more to lead churches all over the world. God has big, beautiful plans for women of color, and for all women.
As a pastor and former church planter, I have met many remarkable women of color who are making a difference in today’s world and in the church. Strong, creative, and insightful—they’re passionate advocates for justice and leaders of leaders. They give vision to the church and incite positive change. These women also understand that they are standing where they are because others advocated for them.
These women are highly respected by their colleagues (both men and women leaders) and in their church communities. It’s been a tough road for them and some have suffered great losses along the way. But they have persevered; their tenacity has kept them in the trenches. And for that, we are grateful.
Here are five women of color I’ve been fortunate to know who are making history in today’s church, many of them bold leaders within my own denomination, the ECC. Join me in celebrating their accomplishments and praying for their future gospel work.
1. Cecilia Williams
Rev. Cecilia Williams was the associate pastor of Sanctuary Covenant Church. She later became the interim senior pastor after Efrem Smith took another position. (Side note: If you don’t know Efrem Smith, president and CEO of World Impact, you should look him up.) Williams is now the head of the ECC’s department of Compassion, Mercy, and Justice (CMJ). She is a visionary and a very powerful communicator.
2. Brenda Salter McNeil
Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil is a prolific writer and a preacher of preachers. Her work on racial reconciliation is outstanding, and she is recognized as a leading, prophetic voice on the topic of biblical reconciliation. She is associate professor of reconciliation studies at Seattle Pacific University, and currently serves as associate pastor at Quest Church in Seattle, Washington. On a personal note, Salter McNeil and I share the same ordination date.
3. Catherine Gillard
Dr. Catherine Gillard was recently nominated to lead the Southeast ECC as superintendent. She will be the first black woman to do so. She has also served as a church planter, president of the African American Ministers Association, and co-pastor of New Life Covenant in Atlanta, Georgia. Catherine is a tenacious leader who has mentored many fellow pastors, both men and women. Keep her in prayer as she transitions into her new role. She will be officially elected during the ECC conference meeting this April.
4. Velda R. Love
Rev. Dr. Velda R. Love is an ordained minister in the ECC. She was an adjunct professor for many years at North Park Theological Seminary. She was also a director for Justice and Intercultural Learning. Love is a highly sought-out speaker and preacher. She has promoted Christian awareness at the intersection of race, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, and recently published a wonderful article: “Moving from Lament to Hope.” Love is currently serving as a minister for racial justice in Cleveland, Ohio.
5. Alphonetta Wines
Now-retired pastor Alphonetta Wines is an outstanding woman of God. Her dear friends affectionately call her “Alfie.” She is a Hebrew biblical scholar who brings Bible stories to life like no one else I have ever seen—male or female. She served in Central Texas for many years, and has written many articles. Her new book, Take Back Your Life, is set to come out this spring.
I have had the honor and privilege of knowing these five remarkable women and seeing them (and many other brave warriors) persevere in their walks with God. Pastoral ministry is very demanding. This is especially true for women of color. Unrealistic demands on their time and energy take a toll on mental and physical health and on family life. For this reason, we need to uplift women pastors and leaders with fervent prayer.
Women of color are rarely recognized for their back-breaking, history-making work in the church. They need our prayers and financial support to keep fighting in the trenches. I encourage you to look up these powerful women on social media. Buy their books. Read their articles. Invite them to come to your church and/or conference. Be an advocate for women pastors and leaders in your community. Be a voice for racial justice and equality. Pray daily for women of color leaders.
Join me in doing so now:
May the many women of color on the front lines of history feel our prayers and see our visible support for their pastoral callings—so that they can continue to make a difference. May every day bring new hope, and may their hearts be filled with strength and encouragement. Make their resources abundant. Enable them to become more impactful every day and cause their prophetic messages to reach a still wider audience.