AME pastor to oversee far-flung flock

September 26, 1992|By Meredith Schlow | Meredith Schlow,Staff Writer

Breaking new ground for women in the African Methodist Episcopal Church is nothing new to the Rev. Ann Farrar Lightner.

In 1986, she was named the first female pastor in the 102-year history of the Mount Calvary AME Church in Towson. Four years later, she became the first woman in 175 years to deliver the opening sermon for the Baltimore Annual Conference for A.M.E. Pastors.

And tomorrow at Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore, Ms. Lightner will be installed as the first female president of the Baltimore and Vicinity AME Ministerial Alliance, which represents 60 churches and about 300 ministries.

"It's very exciting," said Ms. Lightner. "And it's scary."

Her success or failure could affect future opportunities for other women in the church, she said.

"If you mess up, you mess up for everybody," she said. "A woman has to do twice as well as a man in order to be successful."

The 1976 graduate of Boston University, who gives her age as "40-ish," studied for a career in journalism and earned a degree in broadcast communications. In 1981, while working as an account executive at the Baltimore Convention Center, she was called to preach the Gospel.

"So here I am, doing a different type of broadcasting," she joked.

After receiving a master's degree in theology from St. Mary's Seminary in 1984, she was appointed pastor of the Union Bethel A.M.E. Church in Cecilton, Cecil County, with a congregation of fewer than 10 people. Within two years, the congregation had 100 members.

In 1986, Ms. Lightner was confirmed as an Ordained Itinerate Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and appointed pastor at Mount Calvary. At that time, the church had a congregation of about 50, though most were not active members.

Now, more than 150 parishioners crowd the church's 11 a.m. Sunday worship service, forcing Ms. Lightner to add an 8 a.m. service.

The congregation is trying to raise $1.5 million to build a new church that will accommodate 400 worshipers.

Ms. Lightner takes little credit for her success.

"It's really not me," she said. "It's the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lord has given me the gift of speech."

As president of the alliance, Ms. Lightner's plans include teaching pastors how to help community members with problems including drug abuse, housing, parenting skills and acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

"[The program] will help the pastors to be better pastors, to better serve their congregations," she said. "These are all programs that we hope will enhance our ministries."

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