Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly, pioneer religious leader, came from a family of Methodist ministers. Her life as high school social studies teacher, mother of four and wife of a Methodist minister was like that of many other women until her husband’s death in 1969. Kelly then received her own “call” to ordained ministry.
After studying at Wesley Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary, she received her degree in divinity and became an ordained minister. She was pastor of two churches, held several important positions in the United Methodist Church, and gained a reputation as an excellent administrator and dynamic preacher.
In 1983, Kelly became Assistant General Secretary in the area of Evangelism for the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1984, the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church elected her to the episcopacy, the first African American woman to be elected bishop in her denomination. She served as bishop of the California-Nevada Annual Conference and as president of the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops. She was the chief administrative officer and spiritual leader of more than 100,000 United Methodists in California and Nevada.
After retiring in 1988, Kelly served as visiting and adjunct professor of religion at several universities and continued to speak and teach throughout the United States and the world. She also played a significant role in the development of Africa University, a United Methodist-related institution in Zimbabwe. As a role model for women and men all over the world, she mentored and counseled women – both young and old – in the ministry.
Kelly was a social activist, advocating many progressive and controversial issues, including the end to nuclear armaments, opening up the church to gays and lesbians, and ministry to AIDS victims. Her work for social justice was recognized with numerous honors and awards, including ten honorary doctorate degrees, the Martin Luther King, Jr. “Drum Major for Justice” and “Grass Roots Leadership” awards from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the California-Nevada Annual Conference’s Leontine Kelly Social Justice Award.
As a spiritual and moral leader, Bishop Kelly advanced the cause of justice in the United States and throughout the world.