Strength of the Spirit: The Evolution of the Role of Women in Eastern Kentucky ChristianChurches, 1909-2009

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CONFERENCE: Posters-at-the-Capitol

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In the summer of 1801, The Great Revival held at Cane Ridge, Kentucky laid the early foundation for a new church that would “return to the ancient order of things,” following two basic principles; Christ as the head of the church and the Bible its sole authority. The mission of founders Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell emphasized the necessity to tear away from the binds of denominations and the word of man to reestablish the true Christian Church. As their message spread, Disciples of Christ congregations throughout the south and west took root and by 1909 the number of followers totaled 1,250,000. The role women were to serve was like that of most churches, banned from the pulpit and other leadership positions. Over the next 100 years, however, the position of women changed. So much so that by 2005 the head of the Christian Church, titled the President and General Minister, became Dr. Sharon E. Watkins, chosen by President Barack Obama in January 2009 to preach the Inaugural Prayer Breakfast. How did this transformation occur? The thesis was addressed through the study of Christian Churches in four Kentucky counties, including Bath, Montgomery, Fleming and Mason. The foundational knowledge from the secondary literature was employed to construct questions that could be answered through an examination of church records and interviews with the men and women in these churches.