By Rev. Lucinda V. Burgess
The 187th Session of the Ohio-South Ohio Annual Conference saw a shift in the leadership team when senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and presiding prelate of the 3rd Episcopal District, Bishop McKinley Young, made history when he reorganized the district and its leadership. It was during the 2016-2017 conference year that Presiding Elder Wilton E. Blake I reached the mandatory AME Church retirement age of 75 years and officially retired at the Ohio-South Ohio Annual Conference leaving a vacancy. However, it was at the same conference that Bishop Young chose not to fill the vacancy but move the conference in a new direction. When the presiding elder appointments were read, only two appointments were read, both of whom were female. They were the Rev. Dr. Betty W. Holley and the Rev. Dr. Melonie A. Valentine.
To grasp the significance of the shift in the appointment of this dynamic female leadership team, it is important to remember the historical context of women as religious leaders in the AME Church. In 1811, Jarena Lee was “dismissed on the matter of preaching” by Bishop Richard Allen. Although Lee was the first woman authorized to preach in the AME Church, she was never ordained. In 1884, Sarah Ann Hughes was ordained to the office of deacon by Bishop Henry McNeal Turner but her ordination was rescinded by the 1888 General Conference. Women were finally ordained to the office of deacon in 1948 and elder in 1960.
In 2017, Bishop McKinley Young, like Bishop Turner, made a bold move when he reorganized and appointed two female presiding elders to lead the Ohio-South Ohio Conference of the 3rd Episcopal District. This phenomenal leadership team is comprised of two women who have achieved the educational requirements of the AME Church and are outstanding in their respective fields of academia.
The Rev. Dr. Holley leads the Columbus-Springfield-Xenia District. She also serves as the director of the Master of Divinity Degree Program and professor of Environmental Ethics and African American Religious Studies at Payne Theological Seminary and is also the only African American serving on the Smithsonian Institution’s Broader Social Impact Committee – Human Origins Program. She served as the senior pastor of Holy Trinity AME Church in Wilberforce, Ohio, and Central Chapel AME Church in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
Dr. Holley earned her Ph.D. from Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, Ohio, and her Masters of Divinity from Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio. She is also a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Dr. Holley has been an adjunct professor at Wilberforce University, Payne Theological Seminary, Wright State University, and Clark State Community College. She has taught in the Dayton Public Schools and Xenia Community Schools in Ohio and the Richmond County Schools and Greensboro Public/Guilford County Schools in North Carolina. Dr. Holley has also served as the research scientists for Project SWOOPE (Students Watching Over Our Planet Earth) at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
The Rev. Dr. Valentine is the presiding elder of the Cincinnati-Dayton District. Dr. Valentine currently serves as a mentor for The Practical Theology of Christian Discipleship: Regenerating and Developing 21st Century Models, a Doctor of Ministry Focus Group at Payne Theological Seminary. She has also served as a core instructor of Final Document Preparation for the Doctor of Ministry program at United Theological Seminary. She also worked as an organization development consultant for Insolves, Inc. in Piketon, Ohio, and was a member of the adjunct faculty in the College of Business at Ohio University, Chillicothe Campus. She retired from the Uranium Enrichment Plant in Piketon, Ohio, as the senior manager of the Customer Service and Product Scheduling Organization and has 30 years f combined experience in organization development, human resources and staffing, training, strategic planning, group facilitation, team building, and business process re-engineering.
Dr. Valentine earned her Doctorate in Ministry from United Theological Seminary, Masters in Divinity from Payne Theological Seminary, Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration from Ohio University. She has served as the senior pastor at Bethel AME Church in Middletown, Ohio; Quinn Chapel AME Church in Ironton, Ohio; St. Paul AME Church Circleville, Ohio; Bethel AME Church in Frankfort, Ohio; and as an associate at Quinn Chapel AME Church in Chillicothe, Ohio. Dr. Valentine recently published Quit Waiting to See Who Shows Up: Discipleship Development for the Local Church and has written and presented several church development workshops pertaining to church administration, church financial stewardship, church officers’ training, class leaders’ training, evangelism, women in ministry, and Christian discipleship.
This article appeared in the January 29, 2018 edition of The Christian Recorder.