AME Church’s first female bishop seeks to empower women: 'Dream big, get it done'

The first woman to be consecrated a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church will be hosting an event aimed at empowering women leaders.

African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie. In 2000, McKenzie became the first woman to become a bishop in the AME Church. | Photo courtesy of Vashti Murphy McKenzie

Known as the Selah Leadership Encounter for Women, the event will be hosted by Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie at the Omni Hotel in Frisco, Texas, Nov. 21-23 and is expected to draw an estimated 250 attendees.

In an interview with The Christian Post on Friday, Bishop McKenzie said the annual event was based on previous “empowerment opportunities” that she has been providing for years, going back to when she was a pastor.

“It has grown and morphed into several different forms,” added McKenzie, who noted that the event is held annually in both the Dallas Metroplex and in Atlanta, Georgia.

The theme for this year’s Encounter event is “Own It,” which involves women owning their “spiritual gifts,” “past,” and “purpose.”

“Our goal is to help women to take a look at where they have been, understand the lessons learned, all the mistakes, all the successes, and then try to recalibrate, if necessary, where you need to go into the coming year,” said McKenzie, who believes it's important to "dream big, go home, and get it done."

"Use this time in November and December to really do some quality thinking, quality preparing, so that when you do wake up on January 2nd, you have an outline, a plan of what you would like to achieve and where you want to go."

Making history

African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie. In 2000, McKenzie became the first woman to become a bishop in the AME Church. | Photo courtesy of Vashti Murphy McKenzie

Elected as the first female bishop in the AME Church’s history in 2000, McKenzie also became the first woman to serve as president of the denomination’s Council of Bishops.

At present, she serves as the presiding prelate of the Tenth Episcopal District of the AME Church, a regional body that covers the state of Texas.

Regarding her historic election as bishop, McKenzie noted that one of the important experiences she had was learning “how to campaign” and to “get the message out about who you are” as well as “what your ministry is about.”

“Helping people to take a look at your ministerial track record in your pastorate. The kinds of things that you have done,” she explained.

“Being able to get that message out, being able to show people that it’s not just me being female, that I have had experiences, I'm qualified, and take a look at how God has blessed our ministry as an indication of what we can do in the future.”

Power, not sexism

The Encounter event comes at a time when there is much debate in evangelical circles over the role of women in the church and questions on how to properly respond to sexual misconduct.

When asked about challenges to empowering women in the church, McKenzie said she tells women that issues of “power and authority” are a larger challenge than the question of “gender.”

“I share with women that the majority of the time, the issues and the challenges that you face has nothing to do with your gender, but has everything to do with power and authority,” explained McKenzie.

"Most of the time it has nothing to do with gender, but everything to do with power and control. Who is the conductor that gets to select the instruments that play? Who is the director of the choir who determines which voices get to sing and who gets to sing the solo?"

She also felt that both white women and women of color “face similar challenges,” although “women of color face both racism and sexism,” which she referred to as a "double whammy."

Scheduled speakers for the Encounter event will include Priscilla Shirer, actress and best-selling author; Cynthia L. Hale, founder and senior pastor of Ray of Hope Christian Church in Decatur, Georgia; and Deborah Riley Draper, filmmaker ad motivational speaker, among others.

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