Gender Equality in the Black Church

What is Vashti McKenzie’s relationship to the AME church?

Vashti Murphy McKenzie (1947–) became the first woman elected bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, in 2000. The election came during the church’s quadrennial convention held in Cincinnati. McKenzie and the Reverend Carolyn Tyler Guidry, a presiding elder who supervised nineteen AME churches in the Los Angeles area, were the only women among forty-two candidates. McKenzie became bishop of the eighteenth Episcopal District in southeast Africa that includes Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland, and Mozambique, where there were ten thousand members and two hundred churches. In September McKenzie left for her four-year assignment. The commanding preacher achieved a first in 1990 as well, when she was appointed pastor of Payne Memorial AME Church, a large church in Baltimore. Under her leadership, Payne instituted twenty-five new ministries and increased the size of its membership from 300 to over 1,700. McKenzie is a member of the Murphy family, founders of the Afro-American newspaper. The Baltimore native graduated from the University of Maryland at College Park and became a fashion model; she also followed her great-grandfather, John Murphy, into the field of journalism. After working as a journalist and as a broadcaster on a Christian radio station, she decided to enter the ministry. She received a master of divinity degree from Howard University and a doctor of divinity from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. McKenzie was national chaplain for the Delta Sigma Theta sorority; she is granddaughter of one of the sorority’s founders, Vashti Turley Murphy. In 1997 Ebony magazine named McKenzie one of its “Fifteen Greatest African-American Preachers” and placed her at the top of the list. Among McKenzie’s publications are the books Not without a Struggle: Leadership Development for African-American Women in Ministry (1996) and Strength in the Struggle: Leadership Development for Women (2002).


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