Lee experienced a dramatic conversion experience that was not atypical during the early 19th-Century American revivalism period. Thousands were converted in an atmosphere of emotionalism and these intense experiences were often accompanied by visions, dreams and bouts of temporary illness. As a woman, Lee was not initially permitted to preach within the AME church. Despite this temporary roadblock, she continued to feel called on by God. In 1811, Lee was permitted to serve as an exhorter for well-known Bishop Allen. In 1821 she was approved by the church community to lead prayer meetings in a rented house. On a particular Sunday sermon at Allen’s church, Lee interrupted the preacher and spoke of her call to preach. Bishop Allen publicly endorsed Lee as a preacher within the religious community which jumpstarted her 30 year long evangelistic career. Preaching engagements included those in the New Jersey towns of Trenton, Princeton, Burlington, Salem, Woodstock and Snow Hill.
Lee, Jarena. Religious Experience and Journal of Mrs. Jarena Lee: Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel. Philadelphia: Pantianos Classics, 1836.
Lee, Jarena. The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee, 1836. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Women Writers Project, 2007.. http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/918995403.
Casey, Emilie. “Enfleshing the Spirit through Avatar Performance: Objecthood as Resistance in Women Preachers – Rachel Baker, Jarena Lee, and Florence Spearing Randolph.” Feminist Theology 29, no. 2 (2021): 140-155.
Davidson, Phebe. “Jarena Lee (1783-18??).” Legacy 10, no. 2. (1993): 135-141.
Hubert, Susan J. “Testimony and Prophecy in The Life and Religious Experience of Jarena Lee.” The Journal of Religious Thought 54/55, no. 2/1 (1998): 45-52.
Knight, Frederick. “The Many Names for Jarena Lee.” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 141, no. 1 (2017): 59-68.
Questions to Explore
What are some of the experiences Lee had when she felt called upon by God?
How did Lee convince the AME church to let her lead prayer meetings?
Hill DaMaris B. 2022. Breath Better Spent : Living Black Girlhood. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing. https://www.worldcat.org/title/1246143606
LaPrade Candis A. 1994. “Pens in the Hand of God : The Spiritual Autobiographies of Jarena Lee Zilpha Elaw and Rebecca Cox Jackson.” Dissertation. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. https://www.worldcat.org/title/38402473
Patterson Robert J. 2013. “A Triple-Twined Re-Appropriation: Womanist Theology and Gendered-Racial Protest in the Writings of Jarena Lee Frances E.w. Harper and Harriet Jacobs.” Religion & Literature 55–82. https://www.worldcat.org/title/7780826105