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Trailblazer takes her message on the road

Published July 1, 2007


Bishop Corletta Vaughn greets a stranger with a hug and exuberantly launches into a conversation about her life and ministry.

Vaughn, 54, has preached across the United States and around the world. She has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show. She speaks in tongues - the language of religious ecstasy - and says she has witnessed modern day miracles where the dead have been raised and the blind regained their sight.

The Detroit preacher will be in St. Petersburg this week to lead a four-day program she hopes will rejuvenate pastors and other church leaders and inspire people in the pews.

During a recent visit to St. Petersburg to prepare for this week's gathering, expected to draw about 500 participants from around the country, Vaughn spoke about overcoming the traditional bias against female pastors in general and at African-American churches in particular.

The mother of four and grandmother of seven became a pastor in the early 1970s. "The climate at the time was so antiwoman. And it still exists in some denominations, " she said.

Growing up, Vaughn was active in the Baptist church her family attended. "The only problem I had was my gender, " she said. "As a girl, I couldn't go up in the pulpit area, but my father had a different understanding."

He started a church of his own in 1972 and made his wife co-pastor. Vaughn now leads the church, which she has renamed Holy Ghost Cathedral of Faith, with her second husband, the Rev. Gilbert Vaughn. Her ministry added enormous strain to her first marriage, she said.

Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, professor of sociology and African-American studies at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, remembers Vaughn's preaching from more than 20 years ago.

"She's a very dynamic preacher, " said Gilkes, an ordained minister. She said many African-American women preachers have been forced to establish their own churches.

"This is an age-old struggle and this is a continuing struggle, " she said.

"The first denomination to ordain a woman as deacon was the AME Zion Church in 1898, " said Lawrence H. Mamiya, professor of religion and Africana studies at Vassar College.

"Most black and white denominations did not begin to allow and ordain women preachers until the 1940s and 1950s And among some denominations like the Church of God in Christ, the largest black Pentecostal body today, they do not ordain women, " Mamiya said.

He said the traditional role of women has been to support the pastor, sit in the pews and contribute money. They also have been allowed to serve as "deaconesses, " ushers and nurses, a secondary status supported by church women themselves, who have traditionally been more comfortable with male leaders, Mamiya said.

Like a few of her peers, though, Vaughn went on to become a bishop, her consecration performed by the late Benson A. Idahosa of the Church of God Mission in Nigeria, in 1995. Describing it as "a watershed moment, " Vaughn went on to preach in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, Europe and Australia.

"I travel probably 48 weeks out of the year, " she said. During this week's stop in St. Petersburg, her Go Tell It Evangelistic Ministry, a network of 74 American churches, will hold its annual gathering. Pastor Michael T. Culbreth, whose Genesis Worship Center in St. Petersburg is part of the network, said he's excited about the week's program of classes and worship and hopes the public will turn out for it.

Churches in her network spread the gospel by offering shorter services, rap music, step teams, mime and practical assistance such as job training, Vaughn said.

"The people in the pew are demanding something different, " she said. "When you look at televangelist Benny Hinn meetings, they want to see a movement of God. They want to see the demonstration of God."

In Latin America and Africa, she added, "I've seen people raised from the dead. I've seen the blind see. They've not been taught what God can't do, that God doesn't raise the dead. They see this in the Bible and say, 'This has got to be true.' "

Her ministry wants to revive that type of faith, "to bring the original God of the Bible back to the contemporary church, " Vaughn said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at (727) 892-2283 or

If you go

Services and more

Go Tell It Evangelistic Ministry

2007 School of Wisdom: Monday to Friday (July Fourth holiday excluded), Lakewood United Methodist Church, 5995 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S, St. Petersburg.

Concert: 7:30 p.m. Monday, featuring Sean Slaughter, son of worship artist Alvin Slaughter, church choirs and other performers.

Classes: $40 each, beginning Tuesday, 3 to 4:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 6 p.m.

Worship: 7:30 p.m., beginning Tuesday.

Information: Call (727) 415-9514 or go to

[Last modified June 30, 2007, 23:54:23]

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