Mary Lena Lewis Tate (1871-1930)
History of the Revivor and establishment of the latter-
day religious organization known as The Church of the
Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth (I
Timothy 3:15) in 1903. The first woman known to
organize an internationally recognized church and be
elevated to the ecclesiastical rank of bishop.
Mary Lena Street was born January 5, 1871 in the
engulfing aftermath of American slavery with the
entirety of its attendant bruises and scars. She spent most of her early life in the rural South with little opportunity to obtain a formal education. These influences upon her background and development were not unique, for she shared these critical influences with many of her black peers and sisters who overcame and rose to prominence in myriad fields of endeavor. Unique is the fact that this black woman would be endowed with an unquenchable determination to fulfill her destiny, not just in the work of the ministry, but as a fully capable and qualified preacher of God's Word! The unique combination of factors--a woman, black, untrained, the ministry, and the period (early 1900s) even by today's comparatively liberal standards would strongly mitigate any powerful hope of realizing such an unlikely goal. Her vision was not just for the approval of men through recognized ordination, but to demonstrate the approval of Jesus Christ as evidenced through her works! This commission to do the work of a fully approved emissary of Christ would demonstrate itself, not only through the undeniable ability of this woman to articulately and authoritatively preach the Word of God with Power!, but also to heal, convert and baptize. She sought the fullness of God's commission to her as evidenced through the works she would be able to perform. And yet, her will-to-spiritual power was not a personally selfish goal. Like many of the Apostles before her, she would strive only to present herself a living sacrifice wholly acceptable unto God (Romans 12:1); beyond that, God would demonstrate and reveal His Will in her life.
The life of Mary Lena (Street, Lewis) Tate is significant because the plight and fight of women in their thrust to gain full status as productive and recognized citizens in all aspects of our would society is not yet a fait accompli. The accomplishment of this person is just one among many milestones which must be recognized as significant in the struggles of women. The struggle in this particular field--the ministry--has gained momentum and is now being waged in many of the larger and more traditional churches.
Mary Lena Lewis established the religious organization known as the Church of the Living God, the Pillar and Ground of the Truth, Inc. in 1903. Mary Lena Lewis, assisted by her two little sons, Walter Curtis and Felix Early Lewis, "felt moved by the Holy Ghost to go out into the world and preach the Gospel, first at Steel Springs, Tennessee," (Decree Book, p.4). In Paducah, Kentucky; Brooklyn (now Lovejoy), Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; Paris, Tennessee; Greenville, Alabama; Waycross, Georgia and throughout many other cities and states in the Eastern United States, this very bold and gifted black woman, "stood up and boldly preached the Gospel in the cleanness of the Word of God of things pertaining to the Kingdom of God."
Tate's impact on religious thought extended far beyond the tenets of organized religion. It reached the very heart of our system of inalienable rights and freedoms. That impact fathomed the very depths of the debate, at that time, over the rights of women to decide their own destiny and over the rights of a black person to decide anything--personal, social, or religious. Mary Lena Tate's attack was upon history, gender bias, and chauvinism. Her reinterpretation of religious history and Scripture opened the door for a fresh new look at what was historically, and what was told us by historians! Truth often had been disguised or even blinded by racism and multiculturalism; fact was often distorted; and fidelity was, more often than not, lost. The "voice" of women was muted by the pathos and chaos of the times. As Mary Lena Tate entered the Twentieth Century, the dismal shroud of the previous century clung like a suffocating blanket over the fledging future of women as peers with their male counterparts. Opening the doors of the sacrosanct halls of religion was just a beginning.
St. Mary Magdalena Lewis Tate courageously entered the sacrosanct halls of organized religion and thrust open the doors for prepared women to ascend the ecclesiastical ladders of the clergy to become elders, bishops, and chief leaders of myriad religious organizations. In her stride, she had successfully compassed many barriers of social and religious prejudice and bias, envy, and hatred. She had surmounted the hurdles of education, communication, and transportation (walking, using barges, steamships, mule-drawn wagons, decrepit automobiles, and Jim Crow trains) and prevailed. In her wake, thousands of eager women would don the colorful regalia of official ordination and, with authority, flood the formerly verboten podiums, pulpits, and rostrums of chapels and churches throughout the world.
From: Meharry H. Lewis, Mary Lena Lewis Tate: V I S I O N !, Nashville: The New and Living Way Publishing Company, 2005.).