Pomp and circumstance were certainly in order Friday night as the Female Clergy Support Group of Maryland (FCSG) held their inaugural Legend’s Ball, honoring women who have made significant impact through their leadership.
Put together with the help of Sisters in Ministry (SIM), an interdenominational faith-based group for ladies, honorees were each recognized for their work in and outside of church walls both locally and internationally.
Attendees got in-depth looks at each woman via three to four minute videos that played before each legend gave remarks and accepted an award for work in specific areas.
“I was humbled, and I was honored to even be considered a ‘legend,’” Bishop Bertha Greene, 75, told the AFRO, after receiving her award at the organization’s premier gala.
“When I got the call, I was surprised. I wasn’t expecting it,” she said.
The pastor of Baltimore’s Sacred Zion Full Gospel Baptist Church was selected for her direction within the state’s Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship (FGBCF). She has been state bishop since June 2011.
Past contributions, aside from founding Sacred Zion in 1996, include 11 years as Chairwoman of Project ARISE (Abstinence, Remembering, Instilling Pride, Self-Worth, and Education), a church organization funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to promote HIV/AIDS awareness.
The Vaughan, N.C. native also helped organize the Maryland National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, and became an author in 2008 with the release of her autobiography “From the Cradle to the Pulpit.”
Greene was raised on a farm owned by her Clanton family and said that she hopes that holding up positive examples of women in ministry will encourage others in their own faith walk.
“God wants to use women in ministry,” she said. “And it’s important to understand the importance of knowing that God has a calling for women ministers.”
The Female Clergy Support Group of Maryland was introduced at the beginning of the year as an answer to women in need of proper training and upright mentors within the faith community to guide, lead, and promote them to their best selves both spiritually, mentally, and physically in their every day lives.
Along with Greene, two other bishops were acknowledged, including Bishop Joan B. Sanders, leader of El-Bethel Prayer Tabernacle for more than three decades.
Dr. Minnie Washington, Leah White, and Ann Lightner-Fuller, the first woman to serve as president of the Baltimore AME Ministerial Alliance in 1992, were also recognized along with Rev. Cecelia W. Bryant, supervisor of the Fourth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Dr. Patricia Pender, an associate elder at the Beth-El Temple Church of Christ and manager of the Home Schooling Department for Baltimore City Public Schools, took to the stage along with Dr. Leslie Barnett-Davis, who enlivened the crowd with her testimony of surviving a heart attack and multiple sclerosis.
Members of Love Alive Ministries also saw their leader, Dr. Goldia Demory Wright, recognized for her vision and strength as a woman in ministry.
Two of the even dozen, Lady Weptonomah Carter of New Shiloh Baptist Church and Dr. Marie Antoinette Phillips, were posthumously honored. Highlights of Carter’s work included the founding of schools in Port au Prince, Haiti and Kenya, Africa to educate children, and the Progressive Shiloh Workers, who raised funds for students headed to college.
The event was held inside the Calvin and Tina Tyler Ballroom on the campus of Morgan State University, in front of a crowd that ranged from lay members of local churches to national faith leaders.
“It really was a tremendous honor and encouragement- especially hearing the stories of the other sisters,” said Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, the 117th bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church to be elected.
McKenzie currently serves as prelate over the 10th Episcopal District, but has found time to complete four books, and serve on the Advisory Council of the White House Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009.
“We’re all intertwined, and all of our lives kind of mesh together-one after the other,” she said, of the others “who have done extraordinary work in the Lord.”
“Women in ministry are not encouraged in this way a lot so to have a night like this, with a ball setting, where we all get all dressed up and come out is just really wonderful,” said McKenzie, who was impressed by the inaugural event and said she can’t imagine what future endeavors will look like.
Liturgical dancers from Set the Captives Free Dance Ministry and vocal selections were a part of the full-scale event hosted by Lady Marlaa’ Reid of Bethel AME Church and directed by FCSG founder and leader, Dr. Karen S. Bethea, who is also pastor of Set the Captives Free Outreach Center.
More than 200 gathered for the event that lasted well into the night complete with a catered food, gifts for attendees, live music, and vendors pushing everything from hats and purses to suits.
It seemed that everyone present had come out to support and bear witness to the open recognition of a woman or two they, at some point, made a personal connection with.
“I sat under Dr. Ann Lightner-Fuller when I was a young girl of 13,” said Anitra L. Harris- McKnight, 37.
“When someone teaches you how to be a woman- and a woman for Christ- you have to honor that,” said the Baltimore native and current member of Calvary Baptist Church on Garrison Blvd.
“I have been blessed by the ministries of some of the other ladies, such as Dr. Vashti McKenzie, who has ministered many times to me at different locations.
One of the things that stuck out was that she was always poised, as was Dr. Lightner-Fuller, when preaching. They brought a tone of femininity to the pulpit and did it always to honor God.”