Leontine Kelly Biography

Leontine Kelly

religious leader
Born: 3/5/1920
Birthplace: Washington, D.C.

Kelly made history in 1984 when the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church elected her the denomination's first African American woman bishop. She was the second female Methodist bishop behind Marjorie Swank Matthews.

Kelly, whose father and brother were Methodist ministers, left West Virginia State college in 1941 after her junior year to marry Gloster Bryant Current. They had three children and divorced in the early 1950s. Kelly married James Kelly, a Methodist minister, in 1956. She went back to college and earned her B.A. from Virginia Union University in 1960 and took a position as a social studies teacher. Drawn to preaching, Kelly became a certified lay speaker. When her husband died in 1969, Kelly accepted the invitation of Galilee Church to succeed her husband. She earned a master's degree in divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary in 1976 and thus became an ordained minister. She served as pastor of Asbury-Church Hill United Methodist Church in Richmond from 1977 to 1983, when she became assistant general secretary of evangelism for the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship in Nashville. In her post as bishop of the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church, Kelly served as chief administrator and spiritual leader of more than 100,000 United Methodists in California and Nevada.

Kelly retired from the post in 1998 and campaigns for an end to nuclear arms, AIDS awareness, and wider acceptance of gays and lesbians in the church.