IT SEEMS WOMEN have always played a leadership role in the 213-year history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Jarena Lee, for example, a preacher from Philadelphia's Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, is celebrated as one of the first black women to speak out publicly against slavery.
With the election of the Rev. Vashti McKenzie as the denomination's first female bishop, women have finally gained official recognition in the church's highest ranks.
"Because of God's favor, the stained glass ceiling has been pierced and broken," the Payne Memorial pastor told the cheering church convention that gave her overwhelming support in the second round of voting.
When the first woman ran for A.M.E. bishop 36 years ago, she received 13 votes of a possible 1,067. Another woman garnered 200 votes four years ago, falling far short of the 50 percent required.
Women account for 70 percent of the A.M.E. church's 2.5 million members. When church delegates gathered in Cincinnati this week, few doubted a woman would be elected bishop. Indeed, a special resolution was introduced to mandate such an election.
The convention, wisely, rejected such a procedural fiat. It wanted the election conducted on merit.
Over the past decade at Payne Memorial, Ms. McKenzie has proved to be an electrifying preacher. She will now be an inspiration for other denominations still resisting top leadership roles for women clergy. With her responsibilities including Botswana, Mozambique and Lesotho, she will be an influence far beyond U.S. borders.