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The First African-American Woman To Pastor In Fort Wayne

A very wise woman once said, that people catch visions in three different ways. There are those that will receive the vision and move on it. There are those who will receive the vision and sit on it. There are others who will never get the vision and wonder what is going on! Which one are you?

Rev. Naomi Phillips was definitely one who received the vision and moved on it. She wrote the vision and made it plain, she wrote the vision so that the people would not perish, she stepped out on faith.

Phillips was a woman who was ahead of her time. She planted a church in 1958 which was two years before the Connectional AME church ordained women as itinerant elders. The first woman to be ordained as a deacon in African Methodism was Rev. Rebecca Glover of Washington, D.C. in 1948. Phillips founded Gomez only two years after women were permitted to be ordained as Local Elders. She was ahead of her time. Gomez was named in honor of AME Bishop Joseph Gomez who was a strong supporter of Women in Ministry despite its unpopularity at this time in history. Locally Gomez Temple was birthed out of Turner Chapel AME Church which recently received the distinction as a historical landmark and is the oldest Black Church in the Summit City.

Phillips stood on the shoulders of Rev. Jarena Lee who was authorized to preach in 1817 by our founder, Bishop Richard Allen but she was not ordained. Lee was ordained posthumously in 2016 as the AME Church celebrated 200 years as an incorporated denomination.

Phillips was a bi-vocational pastor. She was a skilled seamstress who made robes for local pastors. She was progressive as an entrepreneur by crossing color lines in providing service and Christian Fellowship. Despite being in ministry during a time when women were not widely accepted, she was able to develop friendships with Black and White pastors.

Connectionally she paved the way for the first woman elected and consecrated a Bishop in the AME Church, Bishop Vashti McKenzie in 2000. In 2004 the AME Church elected Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry and the late Bishop Sarah Davis. Bishop E. Anne Henning Byfield formerly of Indianapolis was elected and consecrated in 2016 and is now presiding over the 13th Episcopal District which includes the states of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Byfield says she remembers Phillips as a strong preacher, a little stern but had a congregation who loved her.

She was also respected by the conference. She went on to say that Phillips was a holy woman who demanded Christian values and ethics.”

Pastor Antoinette Hunter-Hilliard, Co-Shepherd of Grace and Glory Encounter Ministries whose Father, Pastor Samuel Hunter, Jr. was a good friend to Rev. Phillips. She remembers being intrigued by her as a female preacher and pastor.

“Filled with the Holy Spirit, I didn’t recognize it at the time but I now know it was the anointing that was all over this preaching powerhouse. Recalls her as a trailblazer in the city. My father embraced her as a fellow preacher.” Hilliard says that she remembers her father preaching at Gomez and the two churches fellowshipping.

Rev. Phillips started Gomez in 1958 and moved to its current facility, 2551 South Anthony Boulevard in 1966, a building purchased from the Quaker Society who had established themselves as change agents in matters related to racial injustice.

“It gives me great honor to follow in the footsteps of a tenacious and passionate visionary who was no-nonsense but loving. The love of Christ made her loving. She was a woman who relished in her femininity and stood on the shoulders of Jarena Lee and the Biblical Deborah. Her vision for Gomez Temple was to save souls and bring others to repentance. I believe that she would be please that the people still have a mind to work. 2551 South Anthony Boulevard continues to stand as a beacon of hope and light. She always wanted the best and demanded quality. Mediocrity simply would not do. I learned so much from Rev. Naomi Phillips and am blessed to have known such a giant of a woman who broke gender and racial barriers locally that has impacted so many globally.” Said, Rev. Paulette Madison, Current Pastor of Gomez Temple AME Church and mentee of the late Rev. Phillips. Madison is the 7th Pastor assigned to Gomez Temple by the Indiana Conference of the AME Church since 1958.

This column is sponsored by The Fort Wayne Ink Spot, a black-owned Indiana newspaper focusing on regional and national stories, especially those impacting African Americans and minorities. This collaboration with The Waynedale News aims to promote diversity, inclusivity, and appreciation for the local black community. By representing all residents’ voices, unity and understanding flourish. Follow FWIS on Facebook and Instagram, or find a retailer at www.fwinkspot.com.

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Rev. Christopher W. Riley

FWIS is a black-owned, Indiana based newspaper that discusses regional and national stories that highlight individuals in the community as well as topics that affect African Americans (and other minority groups). > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer