While growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Jeanette Stokes never imagined she would become a minister. After all, as a young girl, she had never even seen a woman lead a congregation. But she eventually followed her faith, fulfilled her ambition, and helped other women to better nurture their own spirituality.
One thing that was constant throughout Stokes' life was her interest and devotion to women in her community. After traveling to Durham, North Carolina, Stokes stumbled upon the burgeoning Women's Liberation Movement at the bottom of the YWCA where she was working.
"There would be posters around about women's groups and speakers, and women's dances in the basement," Stokes told Host Frank Stasio on The State of Things. "So The Y became a sort of hub for women's and feminist culture and organizing."
From her job at the YWCA, Jeanette stumbled into Duke Divinity School, not with the intent of becoming a priest, but to have conversations about the divine. She ended up becoming the director of the Women's Center at Duke Divinity School, and it became Stokes' job to visit women working in churches around North Carolina. During her visits she realized that many of the women in these rural churches weren't happy and weren't getting the respect they deserved.
"They would get inappropriate sexual comments. They would be asked to work only with the children or young people..." Stokes said. "They would be patted on the head and other things that demean professional women."
Conversations with women in the church inspired Stokes to found the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South out of her small house in Greensboro. The Center has since moved to Durham and exists as a space where women can explore their spirituality through community arts. The Center does not distinguish between denomination.
"Everything we do everyday is in fact sacred," Stokes said. "And what gets in the way of being a faithful religious person or a conscious spiritual person is forgetting that."