Citadel Graduate College alumnae becomes first African American woman ordained in SC Wesleyan Church

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Karen Lewis Crawford was in the final stages of her training to become an ordained minister in the Wesleyan Church when she received some surprising news: she would be the first African American woman ordained in the history of the South Carolina district of the Christian church.

Crawford graduated from The Citadel Graduate College in 2004 with the Master of Arts in Education program. But she would not find her way to begin the journey to become an ordained minister for a decade after that. Finally, in 2019, Crawford was ordained with her husband Joel and three children Mikayla, Grace and Garrison looking on.

Karen Crawford with her Certificate of Ordination

Crawford currently serves as an assistant pastor of Spiritual Formation at Providence Wesleyan Church, in Summerville, South Carolina. She is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. 

In honor of first Easter as an ordained minister, Crawford took the time to share these thoughts with The Citadel family.

Why did you become a minister? What was the first thing that led you in that direction? 

My family is very important to me. They keep me grounded and very happy. I believe that my relationship with Jesus Christ is also important. It is through Christ’s example of sacrifice, servitude and love that we learn how to treat our family, friends, and community — it’s the upward, inward, outward effect of one’s relationship with Christ.

My mother passed away in July 2014, and there were several profound spiritual moments that occurred after her passing. One of those moments was that my desire for God’s Word increased tremendously. I would read the Bible for hours on end. It was like a faucet I couldn’t cut off. My husband quickly saw that I was changing, not just in my desire for the Word of God, but in how I was living. My husband told me one Sunday after church, that the Holy Spirit told him that I was being called into ministry. I had thoughts about taking ministry classes but the support of my husband pretty much solidified things for me. I became a minister because I want others to grow in their walk with our Lord and accept Christ into their lives. For instance, baptisms are an important part of what I do as a pastor, and to witness a person being immersed in the water is a beautiful moment. It’s a wonderful experience. It is moments like that that bring a smile to my face.

What are your reflections on being the first African American woman ordained in the S.C. district? 

It’s interesting because it did not dawn on me until during my ordination meeting with the District Board of Ministerial Development that I was told by the Assistant District Superintendent that I was the first African American woman to be ordained. I asked my husband after the meeting, “Did I hear him correctly?” My husband said, “Yes, you’re the first.” It’s an honor. I don’t see myself as a trailblazer or anything. I just want to go out and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and see lives transformed. That is what I feel that God has called me to do. I want to make disciples for Christ. I know that women in ministry face challenges, but I feel that when God commands any of us to do something then we are to be obedient. Romans 2:11 says that ‘God does not show favoritism.’ Just as a man is called so can a woman be called. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated, ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’ I believe that statement applies to women because there is a sacrificial nature to be a pastor, and I believe sacrifice is gender neutral. I am blessed to be a part of a denomination that honors the gifts of women regarding teaching, preaching, and being spiritual leaders. 

Karen Crawford with Rev. Dr. Wayne Schmidt, General Superintendent of the Wesleyan Church

Tell us about your ordination ceremony. 

It felt like I was marrying the church–it was a beautiful moment. I believe that when I was asked a series of questions that it became real to me. But it was the act of ordination that pretty much was the powerful moment. These were the words: “Karen, as we lay our hands upon you, we ask the Lord to give the unusual outpouring of the Holy Spirit needed for your service as an ordained minister in the Church. May God’s anointing enable you to be a faithful exponent of His Word, and an instrument for his holy sacraments, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” It was at that moment I realized in the words of John Wesley, “I am no longer my own, but thine.”

How are you providing ministry to your church members currently?

Well, I am the Spiritual Formation pastor for my church and during this time, we have had to be creative in our thinking–which is to continue making disciples. COVID-19 interrupted our small group classes so…we do Bible study classes via Zoom. Zoom has been an incredible medium for pastors during this time. It’s been our answer to social distancing. Every Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., myself and the other pastors of my church, simultaneously teach our Bible Study classes to the members of our church or anyone else who wishes to be a part of it. People are nervous, scared and full of uncertainty during this time and I desire for them to know that we are still there for them. As for church service, I am still engaged with my congregation, so we do Facebook Live where we are still able to be engaged. Recently, I hosted a Facebook watch party and invited our friends to join us in watching the worship service. It was incredible! God is continuously at work in the universe and He has given us the technology we need to continue the work of the gospel during this pandemic.