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Who was Leontine Kelly? Idaho church in hot water for window of female Bishop in LGBTQ scarf

Leontine Turpeau Kelly was the first Black woman to be elected as a Bishop at the United Methodist Church
UPDATED DEC 14, 2021
Leontine Kelly was the first Black female Bishop to be elected to a major Christian dominion (UM News, Twitter/Mike Sington)
Leontine Kelly was the first Black female Bishop to be elected to a major Christian dominion (UM News, Twitter/Mike Sington)

A 'woke' church in Idaho has landed in hot water for replacing a stained glass window portrait of Abe Lincoln, George Washington, and Robert E Lee, with that of a Black female Bishop in an LGBTQ scarf. Leontine Kelly, who passed away in 2012, was a noted personality in the Methodist church for being the country's first Black female Bishop. A stained glass window featuring Kelly now appears inside the church in place of the three American heroes. 

The Cathedral of the Rockies First Methodist Church in Boise, Idaho, had taken down the stained glass windows with Lee, Lincoln, and Washington back in 2020 in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. The primary reason was that Lee represented a time of racial injustice in America. And now, Kelly's portrait, adorned with a rainbow-colored LGBTQ scarf, stands in place of the erstwhile window. The change did not sit well with conservatives who dubbed it as a 'facepalm' moment. 


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Who was Leontine Kelly? 

Born in March 1920, Leontine Turpeau Kelly was the first Black woman to be elected as a Bishop at the United Methodist Church. A native of Washington, D.C., Kelly's father David Turpeau Sr. was a Methodist minister who later became elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. Her mother Ila Marshall Turpeau was a noted advocate for Black rights and women empowerment. 

Leontine initially got married to Gloster Bryant Current but the couple divorced after having three children. In 1956, she married her second husband James David Kelly, who was a minister at the United Methodist Church. Kelly was a graduate in economics, history, and humanities from Virginia Union University, where she pursued her B.A. degree in 1960. 

In the initial days of her career, Kelly served as a public school teacher in Virginia for eight years, before attending Wesley Theological Seminary in 1970. There she completed the Course of Study for Ordained Ministers in the Virginia Annual Conference of the U.M. Church. In 1976, she was awarded the M.Div. degree from Virginia's United Theological Seminary. A year later, she was ordained as an Elder, after being previously ordained a Deacon by William R. Cannon in 1972. 

In 1984, she was elected to the episcopacy by the Western Jurisdictional Conference of the U.M. Church, as the first Black woman and the second-ever woman to become a Bishop. She served in the San Francisco Episcopal Area until her retirement in 1992. In 2002, she was honored with the Thomas Merton Award, followed by her induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame. 

Kelly's name featured in the top among the 50 influential personalities shortlisted by the Idaho Methodist Church to replace the Lee window. "We voted to remove it, not knowing whom we would put in the window, but we would figure out something to represent. So for a year and a half the windows have been clear. In a sense, we let some light in. As we started working through the names, one just kept rising to the top, because of our connection to the person and their connection to Boise. And that’s Bishop Leontine Kelly," stated senior pastor Duane Anders. 

The replacement cost around $25,591 to put Kelly up in the window. Though the move is being criticized by many, Kelly's children are overjoyed at the honor and wish to visit the church soon. "Some people were saying it can’t happen, it’s not going to happen. So the fact that it happened, for those of us who recognize and believe in the Holy Spirit, it was divinely guided," Kelly's daughter Angella Felder said.