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Female Founders in Charismatic Churches

When God called women to preach, they preached.

When recognized denominations would not ordain them, sometimes they travelled as itinerant preachers. Sometimes they founded their own congregations. Sometimes they founded a Megachurch. Sometimes they founded a church denomination.

With females founding charismatic churches, how did it happen that female freedoms were reduced?

"You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?" Galatians 5:7 NIV

Dr David Fitch, of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, explains that in most charismatic denominations, the Holy Spirit leads the congregations; the Spirit distributes gifts and anoints leaders. Since the congregation followed the gifting of the Spirit, women and men traditionally had equal representation in leading charismatic churches.

Pentecostals, another charismatic denomination, also has a history of women and men sharing leadership. In her summary of Pentecostal women in ministry, Sheri Benvenuti explains that early Pentecostals fully believed that the Holy Spirit was the authority who led the church, and the Spirit gifted and anointed those who would serve and speak.

The Pentecostal denomination was co-founded by Charles F. Parham and William J. Seymour. Both saw women gifted by the Spirit. Agnes Ozman studied under Parham and in 1901 she was considered the first person to speak in tongues. Pastor Lucy Farrow put William Seymour in touch with Charles Parham, and in 1906, Seymour founded his congregation at Azusa Street in California. Lucy Farrow was instrumental in the early foundations of Pentecostalism and the first African American person to be recorded as having spoken in tongues. Parham hired Lucy Farrow as a family governess; he did not see her as a pastor.

woman preacher
Pastor Lucy Farrow

"Brother Seymour was recognized as the nominal leader in charge. But we had no pope or hierarchy ... The Lord Himself was leading ... We did not honour men for their advantage, in means or education, but rather for their God-given 'gifts...' - Frank Bartleman

Brother Seymour's co-workers at the Azusa Street mission included Florence Crawford and Clara Lum, who shared in preaching and in preparing and sending a newsletter called The Apostolic Faith. Florence Crawford founded the Apostolic Faith Church in Portland, Oregon, in 1907. Similar to the Azusa Street mission, it is a charismatic or Pentecostal denomination. With the permission of Brother Seymour, but not the board of elders, Mrs Crawford took the mailing lists of the Azusa Street mission with her to Oregon. Financial and prayer support was redirected from Azusa Street to the Apostolic Faith Church.

Since Parham opposed the mixing of races, Pentecostals divided into the mixed-race Church of God in Christ and the primarily whites-only Assemblies of God. The Assemblies of God USA does not ordain women and has no women in leadership throughout the Church.

Mae Eleanor Edick Frey was a newspaper reporter who became an American Pentecostal minister, leader, and writer. She advocated for women in ministry:

"... for God-fearing, intelligent, Spirit-filled women, upon whom God has set his seal in their ministry, to have to sit and listen to men haggle over the matter of their place in the ministry is humiliating to say the least." - Mae Eleanore Frey, Assemblies of God evangelist

"God Almighty is no fool- -I say it with all reverence--Would He fill a woman with the Holy Ghost--endow her with ability--give her a vision of souls and then tell her to shut her mouth? - Mae Eleanor Frey

female pastor
Pastor Aimee Semple McPherson

Aimee Semple McPherson preached as an evangelist for ten years and then purchased a property in Los Angeles in 1921 and founded Angelus Temple, which seated over 5,000 people! It was established as an ecumenical centre attended by people of many denominations as well as seekers or secular guests. The Pentecostal movement was unpopular, perhaps because other denominations rejected speaking in tongues and faith healing, and McPherson aimed for a more mainstream audience. McPherson established the first Christian radio station in the United States, a Bible College, and ultimately founded the denomination called The International Church of the Foursquare Gospel.

Charismatics have traditionally acknowledged the freedom and responsibility of women called to ministry roles while evangelicals have traditionally limited it. Charles H. Barfoot and Gerald T. Sheppard wrote about the Changing Role of Women Clergy in Classical Pentecostal Churches, explaining that as Pentecostals formalized church structure, they questioned women being in positions of authority over men. Where women previously had the freedom to use their gifts in any ministry, some were limited to ministering to women and children.

At the same time, denominations that followed strict confessions of faith, set authority structures and education and gender requirements for clergy sidelined charismatics.

Pentecostals gained acceptance and respectability by adopting biblical interpretations and church structures in keeping with the National Association of Evangelicals. Cecil M. Robeck

has written about how women have been active leaders in the Pentecostal or Holiness movement. He explains that "as evangelical values have been adopted by Pentecostals, the role of women in ministry has suffered."

How has the movement of women in ministry suffered in the charismatic movement?

  • Women are usually limited to ministry with women and children

  • A woman pastor may be limited to a role as a co-pastor under the authority of her husband

  • Charismatic denominations or non-denominational charismatic churches may or may not ordain women as ministers

Back in 1919, in a list of 15 Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) missionaries, seven were female. However, the PAOC did not ordain women, which meant they could not perform certain functions, such as weddings and preaching. They did not have the responsibility or compensation of lead pastors. The ordination of women was discussed and denied at several national councils. Finally, in 1984, the PAOC determined to ordain women or men. In 1984, C. M. Ward declared, “This step of opening the pulpit to women is not only morally correct but morally mandatory…. It is the will of God to reach souls regardless of the gender employed." As of January 2016, approximately six percent of credentialed lead pastors in the PAOC were female. In 2018, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (PAOC) affirmed the equality of women and men in ministry and provided an egalitarian exegesis of controversial passages that appear to oppose women in ministry. They do not simply leave it up to local congregations but encourage local churches to teach and implement egalitarian positions and to provide resources to that end.


Elaine Ricker Kelly Author is empowering women with Christian fiction about women in the Bible and early church and Christian blogs about women in leadership, church history and doctrine. Her books include:


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