For many Black women, spirituality and religion are anchors for their lives. Studies show they are some of the most devoutly religious folks in the U.S., and that is beneficial in unexpected ways. One study by the Annals of Behavioral Medicine found that Black women who use spirituality as a coping mechanism are less likely to develop hypertension. Generally speaking, however, Black women are not nearly represented as much in the pulpits as they are in the pews. Slowly but surely, that is changing.
The history-making Black female preachers from across the country who are featured here have heeded the call to ministry, using their God-given talents to spread the Gospel. In the process, they are also leading the way for other Black women, and helping cement gender equality in their communities.
1. Reverend Suzan Johnson Cook
Suzan Johnson Cook is a pastor, motivational speaker, and diplomat who made history by becoming the first woman and African-American to become Ambassador-at-Large for international religious freedom. The Rev. Cook was raised in Harlem by her father, a trolley driver, and mother, a public school teacher.
She holds a bachelor’s degree from Emerson College, a master’s from the Teachers College at Columbia University, and a Master of Divinity and Doctorate of Ministry from Union Theological Seminary. She has experience traveling to lead interfaith delegations in countries like Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, as well as various islands in the Caribbean. She has also participated in humanitarian efforts with World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian organization.
2. Dr. Neichelle R. Guidry
Reverend Guidy is a spiritual daughter of New Creation Christian Fellowship of San Antonio, where she was ordained to ministry in 2010. She also serves as Dean of the Chapel at Spelman College. In 2019 she received the William Sloane Coffin ’56 Award for Peace and Justice — a distinctive honor given to those working toward peace, devotion, and dignity of all individuals.
Guidry is also passionate about creating space for Black millennial women who are called to ministry. She created the virtual hub shepreaches.com as a destination where these women can find a sense of community.
3. Dr. Prathia Laura Ann Hall
No list of noteworthy Black female preachers would be complete without including the late Reverend Prathia Hall, a theologian who is widely remembered for her role in the Civil Rights Movement. The Philadelphia native came from a lineage of preachers, as her father, the Rev. Berkeley Hall, was a Baptist minister. After graduating from Temple University, Hall joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was one of the first Black women to become a field leader in southwest Georgia.
She went on to receive a doctorate in theology from Princeton University, and eventually became pastor of Mount Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia, her father’s church. Hall is widely credited for inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Dr. King had been in the audience at Mt. Olive Baptist Church during a prayer led by Hall where she used the phrase “I have a dream.” Hall passed away on August 12, 2002.
4. Dr. Carolyn Ann Knight
According to her bio, the Denver native’s theological training began at Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, New York, and later Union Theological Seminary in New York City where she received the Master of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology degrees, respectively.
The Rev. Knight was assistant pastor at Harlem’s Canaan Baptist Church for seven years before starting her own congregation, Philadelphia Baptist Church. She served as assistant professor of homiletics at The Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta for 10 years.
5. Bishop Jacqueline E. “Jackie” McCullough
Jamaican-born Bishop Jacqueline McCullough is a revered preacher, gospel musician, and author. Currently, she serves as senior pastor at The International Gathering at Beth Rapha in Pomona, New York. McCullough is also the president and CEO of Daughters of Rizpah, a nonprofit outreach ministry. In her book, I Hate My Life: Winning The War Against Covetousness & Discontent, she seeks to answer questions that stand in between Christians and true contentment.
6. Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie
Baltimore’s own Bishop Vashti McKenzie is one of the most prolific voices in the faith community. She has sat at the helm of African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church since 2000, when she became the first woman in its 200-year history to obtain an Episcopal office position.
Author of five books, the University of Maryland graduate was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the inaugural President’s Advisory Council of the White House Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. In 2014 the Huffington Post included McKenzie in its “50 Most Powerful Women Religious Figures Around The World” list.
7. Sarah Jakes Roberts
Daughter of Bishop T.D. Jakes, Sarah Jakes Roberts is blazing a trail for millennial women of faith. She and her husband, Touré Roberts, are co-pastors at The Potter’s House at One LA and The Potter’s House Denver. Roberts is also respected for her testimony. She has openly spoken about getting pregnant at just 14 years old, and the insecurity and depression that followed.
Eventually, she was confronted with a choice: settle or evolve. She chose the latter, and in 2017 launched Woman Evolve. This ministry seeks to transform women to realize their full potential. Now a wife, mother, businesswoman, and author of four books, Roberts is living proof that our fears and insecurities do not define us.
8. Priscilla Shirer
Author, minister, and motivational speaker Priscilla Shirer founded Going Beyond Ministries. She holds a master’s degree in biblical studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, and her mission is to teach “the truths of Scripture intellectually.” Shirer personally designs studies for women and teens based on biblical characters and topics including Jonah, Gideon, the Exodus, and discerning God’s voice.
9. Dr. Gina Marcia Stewart
Reverend Stewart is a senior pastor at Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. The University of Memphis graduate earned the distinct honor of becoming the first Black woman elected to lead an established Black Baptist congregation in Memphis and Shelby County. In 2018 she was inducted into the Martin Luther King Board of Preachers. Stewart was formerly a member of the Advisory Board for The African American Pulpit.
10. Dr. Renita J. Weems
Reverend Weems is co-senior pastor of Ray of Hope Community Church in Nashville, Tennessee. She is a biblical scholar, an ordained minister, and a writer who is an authority on spirituality and feminist theology. She was also a biblical studies professor at Vanderbilt University and was the first Black woman to deliver the Lyman Beecher Lecture at Yale University.