March is Women’s History month and indeed our area is rich with the wonderful histories of women who have given their lives in service to the church through the years. Rev. Joe DiPaolo called to my attention one such woman who was a pioneer woman preacher, missionary, educator and holiness advocate. Her name was Lela McConnell (1884-1870) and she was a native of Chester County, PA. Lela was nurtured in the faith in the Honey Brook Methodist Episcopal Church. She was raised on a farm where she found herself in charge of all of the horses and plowing the lower ten acres by herself when her father died. She became a Christian at a revival service at the Honey Brook Church and the pastor, W. Q. Bennett saw her spiritual giftedness and put her in charge of disciple groups and leading in prayer at public meetings.
She attended the West Chester State Normal School (Now West Chester State University) and served as a school teacher for five years. Later she attended Keystone Norma School which brought her to a job teaching in Atlantic City, NJ. There she became involved in the Central Methodist Episcopal Church and the holiness movement. Doors opened for her to attend the Chicago Evangelistic Institute (an inter-denominational school dedicated to holiness principles.) Upon graduation she moved to Alberta, Canada and helped to found a Bible Institute where she was appointed principal. Health concerns led her back to Philadelphia where she did a great deal of evangelistic work and home visitation.
In 1922 she moved to KY and attended Asbury College. There she became involved in what became her life’s work: The Kentucky Mountain Missionary Society. She was ordained a local deacon by Bishop Theodore Henderson at the annual session of the Kentucky Conference. Two years later she was ordained a local elder. The church at that time allowed women to be ordained but they still could not serve as appointed pastors or enjoy full clergy rights.
Her work in Eastern Kentucky was full of dangers and difficult personal sacrifices but she brought the gospel of salvation and many people responded to her ministry and she helped people who lived in poverty. She established the Kentucky Mountain Holiness Association and the Kentucky Mountain Bible Institute. Lela gave women many opportunities to preach and she preached widely in the area and frequently spoke on radio.
People who knew her said that she was a great leader, with a determined spirit. Lela always went forward in prayer, never asked for money, and knew how to have fun.
I thank God for the life of Lela McConnell, the “hand maiden of the Lord” from Honey Brook, PA. Her life set many people free and extended the love and salvation of Christ to many.
Daughters of the faith….we have Lela in our cloud of witnesses. When things don’t go our way, we can remember her dedication and sacrifice. Remember the generations yet to come who are depending on us and our faithfulness.
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson