Leontine T. C. Kelly
National Visionary

Born March 5, 1920 in Washington, D.C.

First African American female Bishop in the
United Methodist Church

A highly respected religious leader and pioneer, Leontine Turpeau Current Kelly was the first African American woman to be elected bishop by any major denomination in the world. Elected in 1984 by the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church, she served as bishop of the California-Nevada Annual Conference and as president of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops. Bishop Kelly’s preaching missions included the European Theater for the United States Chaplaincy in 1975; Germany, Italy and Sicily in 1992, and Japan in 1993. She was also speaker for the World Methodist Council, Nairobi, Kenya, in 1997.

Leontine Kelly was born in the parsonage of Mount Zion United Methodist Church in the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. on March 5, 1920. Her family settled in Cincinnati, Ohio when Kelly was 10 years old. The daughter, sister, and widow of Methodist ministers, she received her own “call” to ordained ministry following the death of her husband, Dr. James David Kelly, in 1969. She began studies at Wesley Theological Seminary, and received a Master of Divinity degree from the Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia.

Kelly left a successful career as a high school social studies teacher in Virginia to follow her religious calling. Throughout her careers, she served on numerous church and civic committees and boards both local and national in scope. As an ordained United Methodist elder, she served local churches in Virginia and assumed the position of Associate Program Council Director of the Virginia Annual Conference. A natural leader, in 1983, she became Assistant General Secretary for evangelism for the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship, Nashville, Tennessee. The following year, at the age of 64, she made history when elected bishop.

Kelly has been widely recognized for her work and commitment to social justice issues. Her numerous honors and awards include ten honorary degrees, the Martin Luther King, Jr. “Drum Major for Justice” and “Grass Roots Leadership” awards from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Ebony magazine’s Black Achievement Award in the area of Religion, and Ladies Home Journal magazine’s “One Hundred Most Important Women in America.” In October 2000, Bishop Kelly was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.

Following her retirement in 1988, Kelly served as Visiting Professor of Evangelism and Witness at Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley, California. She later served as Adjunct Professor both there and at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut.

Bishop Kelly currently resides in San Mateo, California, where she enjoys spending time with her four children and five grandchildren. She continues to maintain a full schedule of speaking and teaching engagements throughout the United States and other countries.



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