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Woman Power in the Pulpit : High-Energy Sisters of Charismatic Ministry Hit the Mean Streets to Serve Down-and-Out Flock


A prostitute spots a car pulling up to the curb.

Her eyes freeze in the headlights. She tries to disappear into the shadows of an abandoned building in Compton.

The Rev. Patsy Brown spots her. She alights from the car and approaches the woman with a neighborly handshake. The woman fixes her stare on the ground. She mumbles her name. Felicia.

"I haven't seen you out here for a while," Brown says.

"I've been trying to stay off drugs," says the agitated young woman in a fur-collared coat. "I came out here tonight because I need a little [pocket] change."

Another woman tries to slink past. Brown stops her with a firm call to worship. "We are going to have a little service now," she commands.

The women obediently join hands and bow their heads. Brown delivers an impassioned 5-minute street sermon about suffering and hope. "Be careful," Brown warns. "If you need help, you know where to find me. God bless you."

For the past 20 years, the flamboyant pastor with the 2-inch fingernails and the mane of golden hair has been delivering her intimate, hands-on blend of gospel and social ministry at the pulpit and on the streets.

To many, she is a valued and respected clergywoman and community leader. But, like many of her charismatic sisters with roots in conservative African American churches, she feels disregarded by male colleagues who don't believe a woman's place is in the pulpit.

Then there are the women to contend with--the evangelical Christians who are suspicious of women in positions of authority and the feminist ministers who dismiss their theologically conservative sisters.


'They don't fit in," says the Rev. Ginny Wagener, executive director of the South Coast Ecumenical Council.

"They aren't part of the male African American minister alliance because of sexism [and] they aren't related to other women clergy because of their conservative views on abortion and sexuality. But they are very important. Their numbers are huge and growing. So many are doing so much in the community, but no one knows about them."


Brown is seated at her desk at the Compton YWCA,where she is director of child development. Like many clergywomen, she has never had the luxury of concentrating solely on her ministry.

Now 48, she has been married twice. She gave birth to her first child at 16 and reared her three now-grown sons as a single mother while going to school and working full time. In 1967 she was hired as one of the first female mail carriers in Detroit, where she grew up. She has also worked as a cosmetologist and as a computer programmer for Los Angeles County.

Brown started preaching to prostitutes and drug addicts on street corners and in parking lots with little more than a dog-eared Bible and an indomitable will. On Oct. 31, 1983, she founded her first congregation in a church in Compton not much bigger than a walk-in closet.

She is now an ordained preacher in the charismatic, nondenominational Word of Faith Ministry. She shepherds the 50 mostly African American members of her flock from a church located in Del Amo Mobile Estates, where she lives in an upscale triple trailer.

"Moses was sent to people who were bound by chains," says Brown. "Martin Luther King was sent to people who were bound by discrimination. I was sent to people who are bound by sexist tradition. I'm the Rosa Parks of the pulpit. I am not going to take the back seat."

When not at the YWCA, where she works with parents and children and participates in programs dealing with child abuse and domestic violence, Brown can be found directly helping needy people.

Over the years, she has taken in prostitutes and gang members, winos and drug addicts. She has cleaned them up, cooked for them, helped them get shelter and jobs, listened to them, prayed with them, prayed for them.



There is nothing unusual about caring for people, says Brown, who estimates that there are about 100 female pastors in Compton who minister almost invisibly in small churches and restaurants, storefronts and station wagons.

"The number of female pastors is growing like weeds," she says. "Men are motivated by power. I'm not saying that's wrong. But sometimes the needs of people get pushed aside to build kingdoms. Women put the need of people before the buildings."

The Rev. Lydia Waters, pastor of the mainline First United Methodist Church of Compton, points out that women have always played major spiritual roles in black communities, but the good church opportunities have gone to men.

Dr. Joseph Holmes, pastor of the Double Rock Baptist Church in Compton says, "I do not feel it is scripturally sound for women to be preachers. I base this on the absence of women as among the 12 disciples." But recently, Waters says, there has been a surge of energy among black female ministers, some of whom, like the Rev. Earnestine Cleveland Reems of Oakland, are attracting thousands to their pews.

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