Members of the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Thorofare, New Jersey, who shut out their newly appointed Pastor, Ratona Stokes-Robinson, from preaching at the pulpit inside the building since June, reportedly because of her sex, finally relented on Sunday and allowed her inside.
Robinson’s acceptance by the church was announced by The Christian Recorder, the AME’s official newspaper. Her controversial embrace by the church happened under the watchful eyes of Bishop Julius H. McAllister, Sr., presiding prelate of the First Episcopal District of the AME Church, Connectional Women in Ministry President Dr. Erika Crawford as well as Presiding Elder R. Christopher Wade of the Camden-Trenton District of the New Jersey Annual Conference.
"Let us forget about ourselves and concentrate on Him and worship today,” McAllister told the congregation Sunday.
Robinson then preached from Psalm 116 which reads in part: “I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live.”
She told the congregation that she “wrestled” with the Scripture all week.
When Robinson was done with her sermon McAllister said “God has spoken.”
“We are indeed a liberated and reconciled people. That is what we are about. That is what we stand for. That is what we preach. That is what we pray. That is what we sing,” he said to a smattering of applause.
Since her appointment on June 20, the church officials had withheld the keys to the church building as well as her salary, forcing Robinson to preach outside the building until a week ago when a group of prominent women leaders in the AME church publicly protested the situation.
“Imagine all of this is happening to you because you are a WOMAN! Yes, the members have declared they do not want a woman as their Pastor and that’s why she’s been locked out! I didn’t have to imagine, I watched this happen today and my heart hurts,” Orsella Hughes, the pastor of Allen Chapel AME Church - Hartford and executive director of the Prosperity Foundation in New Haven, Connecticut lamented.
The Connectional AME Women in Ministry, the official professional organization for women pursuing excellence in ministry in the AME Church, also acknowledged the situation in a statement.
“As we celebrate a woman as President of the Bishops’ Council, a woman as President of the General Officers Council, a woman as President of the Presiding Elders’ Council, and an all-woman Executive Board of the National Council of Churches (USA), we are greatly distressed to hear of women in ministry concurrently being oppressed by systematic strongholds and discriminatory behavior,” the group said.
Along with being allowed access to the church facilities, AME officials also instructed leaders in the congregation to Robinson retroactively for the period during which access to the church was withheld.