First woman bishop’s sermon to Truett students

Reverend McKenzie
Reverend McKenzie

By David McLain

The echoing voice of Rev. Vashti McKenzie reverberated through the regular Tuesday chapel service for Truett Seminary students at the Paul Powell Chapel.

McKenzie is the first woman to hold the position of bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Her initial election to the 18th Episcopal District in 2000, which McKenzie called “breaking the stained glass barrier,” was the culmination of a long history of women pastors in the church. McKenzie has since been elected to preside over the 13th Episcopal District and she currently serves as the bishop of the 10th district of the church, which consists of the entire state of Texas.

McKenzie, who graduated from the University of Maryland with a B.A. in Journalism, was ordained by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1984. By the time of her election in 2000, she has served 28 years of ministry.

McKenzie said she believes that journalism and preaching are intertwined, that only on the surface does it look like they are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

McKenzie spent most of her early years in the ministry as a pastor, helping develop the urban areas where she worked in Baltimore.

“In my belief system every person who is called by God has a ministry that they do in the Lord as a part of their faith relationship,” McKenzie said. “When you engage in ministry and help someone find their ministry it is always a joy. Those are the kinds of moments that remind you why you are where you are, doing what you’re doing.”

McKenzie’s sermon, titled “Speaking Truth to Power: Just Tell It,” centered on advising the future pastors attending Truett Seminary. McKenzie urged the students to use their position as representatives of their communities as an opportunity to hold the leaders of the community accountable to the promotion of the public good.

She charged them to preach sermons that “assault the world with the truth of God’s word.” McKenzie said she believes pastors have an obligation to speak truth to positions of power.

She explained this concept through the biblical story of Moses, recounting how Moses told Pharaoh that God demanded Pharaoh release God’s people freedom from slavery, McKenzie said she does not claim ministry an easy calling, but instead offered the calling of God on Moses and these future pastors as a “creative tension with the impossible.”

McKenzie warned the future preachers not to lose heart if community leaders do not receive their message with anticipation; they must look to their ultimate calling.

“There may come a time, preacher, that God will call you to preach to the establishment,” McKenzie said. “They won’t like it and they won’t like you.”

Jan Cason, the Financial Manager of Truett Seminary, said this was McKenzie’s first speaking engagement at Truett.

“We just look for pastors who are examples to our students,” Cason said. “We like to bring in pastors who are out in the field. They learn from those who go before them.”

Dr. David Garland, the Dean of Truett Seminary and middle school classmate of McKenzie, closed the service by sharing a memory of the speaker.

“I don’t remember her teaching us to preach like that in junior high,” Garland said.