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Easing the Difficult Path to the Pulpit for African-American Women

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Samuel L. Freedmen, THE NEW YORK TIMES

CHICAGO (The New York Times)— Just before the Passover festival, the same point in the calendar when Jesus gathered his closest followers in the Upper Room, the Rev. Neichelle Guidry Jones knelt on the floor of a Hyde Park apartment here in devout imitation of her savior. She grasped a cloth and moved a ceramic basin into place and, in the manner that the Gospel of John described, humbled herself to wash the feet of the disciples.

The disciples were seven young black women who had answered the call to ministry, and Ms. Jones was preparing them to preach on Good Friday. With its image of a crucified Christ and its evocation of racial lynchings in this land, there is perhaps no more significant day for the African-American church as an institution.

Ms. Jones lifted a pitcher and poured a thread of water onto the feet of Ericka Elion, a seminary student. It coursed over the veins and calluses, the bony knobs and painted toenails, the imperfect tissue of fallible humanity. Then Ms. Jones delicately dried Ms. Elion’s feet. She repeated the ritual six more times, once for each woman.

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