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  • Writer's pictureKara Payne

Defining "First Lady"

First Lady” is an interesting term. Many people know the title to refer to the wife of a political figure such as the president or governor. The term is credited as having an origin in the United States in the late 19th century. References to Martha Washington and Dolley Madison respectively are the first known and/or recorded references to the tile. However, it was Harriet Lane, the niece of President James Buchanan who first formally held the title because she was doing much of the roles of a president’s wife, such as hosting and providing formal greetings.

Now when the term “First Lady” got to the church is a question I’m still looking for an answer to. However, it mainly seems to be observed in predominantly black congregations. Growing up in the AME Church which stands for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the term First Lady was all I ever knew. Many of them probably fine with being called “Sister So and So.” Still, we knew them as being the wife to the Pastor, the Shepherd and Leader of the Flock, the wife was the first lady or first gentleman in the case of a female pastor. Which the AME Church also was a leader in — but that’s another blog for another time.

As I continued my research on the term, I found some strong opinions about the title and its role in the church. It’s really a pain point for some. I for one do believe in respecting the roles and the calling in ministry. But the term “First Lady” is certainly not biblical and let’s be clear I’m happy to be “Sister Kara” or just Kara any day of the week. Nevertheless, the term first lady is one that is transferrable to any area of a woman’s life. In fact, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term was initially designed to “refer to a woman outstanding in her field or in a high rank." That means anyone can be or desire to be the first lady — whether it’s in their career, their home or really of their destiny. If you rise to the occasion and shine in your space, go ahead and pat yourself on the back and say “go head first lady!”

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