In this overdue social moment of affirming the value of Black lives, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary alumna Rev. Harlene Harden also seeks to affirm women of color’s sacred call to ministry.
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary is one of the 13 United Methodist seminaries supported by the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment of the United Methodist Church.
Rev. Harlene Harden knows Black women in ministry’s dilemma – feeling God’s call but not having that call fully affirmed by their denominational community or leadership. When her calling came, Harden belonged to a Baptist church that didn’t believe women were called to pastoral ministry. Also, at that time, she had never even known a Black woman pastor.
Yet, despite these obstacles to full affirmation, Harden said the call was clear. “God opened up Isaiah 61 for me in a way that was phenomenal,” she said.
At that time, Harden was happily working in a management position for Commonwealth Edison, a nuclear power company in Joliet, Illinois.
One day, she saw a newspaper article announcing that a Black female minister from Michigan – the Reverend, Dr. Linda Hollies – would come to Joliet and pastor the Richards Street United Methodist Church. Harden knew she had to meet Hollies.
When Hollies arrived in Illinois, Harden introduced herself and welcomed her to the community. Harden and Hollies made for fast friends, and shortly after, Harden joined the Richards Street United Methodist Church.
At first, Harden was resistant to the idea of seminary. She had heard an Evangelical preacher glibly say that going to seminary was like going to the cemetery – lifeless and without spirit. Hollies, a Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary graduate, convinced Harden otherwise, and she agreed to visit Garrett-Evangelical.
The visit transformed Harden. “I went to GarrettEvangelical to check out the school, and I was like a little kid,” Harden remembered. “It was a whole new world for me.”
Harden applied, was accepted, and started seminary in January of 1990, 10 years after she had finished her undergraduate degree in criminal justice from Lewis University in Chicago.
Harden graduated in 1994 with a master of divinity degree and began serving a two-point charge on the south side of Chicago – the Pullman United and the Fellowship United Methodist Churches.
Four years later, Harden became pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Waukegan, Illinois. After serving that church for eight years, Harden became senior pastor of St. James United Methodist Church in Hyde Park, Illinois.
Harden’s last charge was the Sycamore United Methodist Church in Sycamore, Illinois, where she was the first African American female in its 180-year history to serve as pastor. In 2009, while serving the Sycamore church, Harden created a scholarship in her name at Garrett-Evangelical to assist Black and diverse women pursuing the development of God’s call in their lives. In addition to starting this namesake resource, Harden has also made a planned gift as part of her eternal legacy to further support it.
excerpt from a story in AWARE Magazine, Fall 2020 issue
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Ministerial Education Fund is at the heart of preparing people for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The 13 United Methodist seminaries help students to discover their calling through the challenging curriculum. The fund enables the church to increase financial support for recruiting and educating ordained and diaconal ministers and to equip annual conferences to meet increased demands. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment at 100 percent.