Carrying on her family's tradition

Imani Sheila Newsome is an ordained minister at St. Paul's African Methodist Episcopal Church in Cambridge, Mass. She's also a PhD candidate and a part-time preacher at Boston University's Marsh Chapel. The Rev. Ms. Newsome relies on her unique experiences as a single, black woman to make her sermons more relevant to the predominantly black congregation at St. Paul's, where she serves as an associate preacher, and to the interdenominational, multi-ethnic congregation at Marsh Chapel.

The idea of serving God was a strong element of Newsome's East Orange, N.J., upbringing.

``All the men in my family are ministers and missionaries,'' she says. ``Even as children, we were raised to accept that you had to do something for God.''

Although Newsome feels that becoming an ordained minister was a natural extension of her lifelong church activity, it was not the first career she pursued. Before entering the ministry, she was an assistant professor of education.

``I had become the person I really wanted to be by my late 20's,'' she comments. ``I had arrived at my dream position in life. It was where I expected to be when I was 55 years old.''

It was at that point in her life that she decided to become a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church. ``It was a strange thing for a woman to do. There's 50 million things a woman can do, but this was the last patriarchal frontier.''

Newsome's decision brought different reactions from different members of her family.

``They were deeply concerned about the fact that no woman in my family had ever been an ordained minister,'' she says. ``But once they saw that I had really prayed about it and thought about it, then I got a lot of support.''

Among the male minister members of her family, that support varied. Her oldest uncle still cannot introduce her to others as a fellow minister, but calls her a missionary because ``it is inconceivable to him that a woman can be ordained,'' she comments.

Newsome's grandfather had been silent about her ordination until he listened to a tape of preaching.

``He was very quiet while the tape played,'' she remembers. ``Everybody was kind of holding their breath to see what he was going to say. When the tape was over, he sat for a few minutes. Then, he looked at me and said, `You are called to preach the Word.'''

``My father has been supportive all along,'' she adds.

When asked how being a woman affects her preaching, Newsome says, ``I try to preach so that all people hear that there is grace and love - but particularly, I never want Afro-American women to walk away and feel that they have not heard some bit of their life story.''

At Marsh Chapel, Newsome recently preached a sermon on the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well. ``I preached the text from the woman's point of view. I completely reversed the imagery being centered around Jesus,'' she says. ``Because I'm an Afro-American woman, I could only do it out of my own experience.

``[The Samaritan woman says] she doesn't want to be bothered because it's a hot day and she's got a lot of work to do, and who wants to be bothered?... All the sudden this man asks, `May I have some water?' And she says, `I'm busy ... but I'm a courteous woman, so let me give this man a drink of water, and maybe he'll go away.'''

Newsome says the lessons ``about being courteous came out of my own experience of being raised ... to be as kind and giving and loving as I could, even when it hurt, even when it was a struggle because that's what Christians do - particularly Afro-American Christians who are taught to turn the other cheek, to always go the extra mile in the face of racism and oppression.''

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Carrying on her family's tradition
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today