Gospel truth: 2 from area win Ebony honors Preachers: Two XTC Baltimore-area pastors, noted for their dynamic yet relevant sermons, make Ebony magazine's list of the 15 Greatest Black Women Preachers.

November 18, 1997|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The Rev. Vashti McKenzie and the Rev. Ann Farrar Lightner-Fuller have quite a bit in common.

They are black women, ministers and pastors of Baltimore-area African Methodist Episcopal congregations. Both received their doctorates from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. And the two have been recognized as dynamic preachers, among the best at their craft.

In this month's Ebony magazine, McKenzie and Lightner-Fuller are included in a list of the 15 Greatest Black Women Preachers, as determined by a nationwide poll.

McKenzie, pastor of Payne Memorial AME Church in Madison Park, was tied with two other ministers for first place in the balloting. Lightner-Fuller, pastor of Mount Calvary AME Church in Towson, finished near the top of the list.

"This is the first time Ebony has focused solely on women preachers. The timing is right," said Associate Editor Joy Bennett Kinnon, who wrote the article. "There have always been women preachers, from Harriet Tubman to Sojourner Truth. But until recently, there hasn't been a large pool of black women who have pastored churches."

Both McKenzie and Lightner-Fuller said their aim in writing their sermons -- and the reason that they seem to connect so well with their congregations -- is that they try to relate their message to issues people face in daily living.

"[Preaching] is an opportunity where the Word of God meets the challenges people face on a regular basis," McKenzie said.

"Some people tend to think the Bible and faith are so totally different from our everyday lives, when in fact God has something to say through his Word to every aspect of our lives, either implicitly or explicitly. So when you come and sit and listen to the Word of God or sermon, you'll be able to see yourself.

"There's the theology and doctrine and dogma," she said. "But you'll also communicate issues and challenges we're all facing every day."

Lightner-Fuller said she writes her sermons using language and concepts "so that the people are able to understand what I'm preaching about."

"I call it putting it where the people can reach it," she said.

But something about the way the two preachers deliver their message sets them apart.

"People accuse me of not being a traditional Methodist preacher, in that I get really excited in what I'm preaching," Lightner-Fuller said. "And then people get caught up in what I'm doing from the pulpit.

"I'm not a lecturer," she said. "I preach the Word with fervor, because that's how the Spirit leads me to preach it."

Lightner-Fuller likes to recall the advice she heard from Bishop Harrison Bryant, a former pastor of Bethel AME: " 'If you catch on fire, folks will come and watch you burn.'

"But I always say, [the congregation will] catch on fire, too," she said.

McKenzie and Lightner-Fuller said that women who are ministers bring their perspective to their preaching.

"There is a difference with how women present the Gospel and how men present the Gospel," McKenzie said. "There is a difference to our approach. There is a way we see it, and a way we tell it."

"I think we basically come from a female hermeneutic, seeing the women's point of view more in a sermon, bringing out a woman's point of view in a sermon," said Lightner-Fuller.

This is especially true when the personalities in a particular Scripture are women. As an example, Lightner-Fuller noted the conflict between Sarai and Hagar in the Book of Genesis. Sarai, the wife of Abram, was barren, so she told him to conceive a son with their Egyptian slave girl Hagar.

"When you look at Sarai and Hagar, I can see so many things that a man might not see right off the bat," Lightner-Fuller said.

"For instance, the personalities of those women. I preach about how the Scripture says in Genesis that Hagar taunted Sarai. I talk about how Hagar pranced around Sarai with her swollen stomach and said, 'I can do this for him, what can you do?' Women know how women talk, and how women act.

"Men preach from those texts, but I've not seen them deal with them like I've seen women deal with the same text," Lightner-Fuller said. "I don't think men take the time to look at women in Scripture like we look at women in Scripture."

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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