School teacher, commissioned extension worker, church leadership trainer and mentor, and de facto pastor, Kathryn M. Turrentine Stanley was a native Alabamian, born and raised in the Congregational Church. She was a fourth generation Congregationalist as the daughter of Rev. William J. Turrentine, who was reared in Mebane, North Carolina and served as a Congregational pastor in Athens, Alabama. As Congregationalists, she and her family were educated in schools organized and funded by the American Missionary Association (AMA), a Northern organization established in 1846 for the original purposes of combating slavery, establishing churches, and educating blacks.
After teaching a year at Gloucester Normal School, an AMA school in Capahosic, Virginia, near Yorktown, Stanley emerged as a pioneer in educational ministry. In 1924 Stanley became the first black woman commissioned by the Congregational Sunday School Extension Society to serve as a summer worker and provide religious education to children and youth in churches and community centers. Her duties included developing and implementing religious, social, and recreational programs, and assisting pastors by filling pulpits and providing congregational care as needed. Her geographical assignment was the entire Southeast from Texas to Virginia, the same ministerial jurisdiction later undertaken by her husband J. Taylor Stanley. Kathryn considered the commission to extension work as a much-needed missionary endeavor. Even so, her efforts required a powerful inner strength as she traveled alone in a Model T Ford on unpaved roads in the Jim Crow South.
Stanley served as a commissioned extension worker until 1927, when she married J. Taylor Stanley. Stanley was a Southern woman, a daughter of an African American professional, and a college graduate and a professional. These three features make her atypical during the 1920s. At an age when the average young woman married, the twenty-one-year old Stanly postponed matrimony as she worked out her commission. In her day, and especially so for African American females, women were denied access to ordination and pastoral ministry. Kathryn raised her four children and supported her husband in his ministries as a pastor and superintendent.
In 1950 the Convention of the South, comprised of all the black Congregational and Christian Churches, was formed and Rev. J. Taylor Stanley, Kathryn’s husband, served as superintendent. Washington Terrace Church had been part of the Convention, but in 1954 the church was vacant. When the Congregational Christian Church decided to sell the property, Kathryn Stanley argued that ministry could be refocused and rendered to children and youth at Washington Terrace Church. Thus, from 1954 to 1972 Stanley conducted worship services, confirmation classes, Sunday School, Vacation Bible Schools, and provided seminarians with preaching and practical ministry opportunities. Because she was not ordained, she was not authorized to administer the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion. Nevertheless, she untiringly rendered effective pastoral ministry to her congregation of children, teens, and young adults. She also supported her congregation’s youth who attended Catholic school by being present at school-related events and functions. She advocated for and mentored youth in their educational and vocational endeavors. In her work, she hoped to instill self-esteem and racial pride by introducing congregants to cultural artifacts from Angola that her missionary colleagues brought back stateside. In short, the church’s “Director of Activities,” Kathryn M. Turrentine Stanley, was in every practical sense the de facto pastor of Washington Terrace Congregational Church.
When neighboring Pilgrim Congregational Church was without a building in 1966, Stanley allowed congregants to use Washington Terrace’s facilities until their new church was built. From 1966 to 1972, the two churches shared a worship space yet maintained separate services and activities. In 1972 Washington Terrace and Pilgrim united to form Congregational United Church of Christ, located at 401 Gordon Street, High Point.
The merger concluded the effective ministry of an African American woman, who despite never having been ordained still contributed significantly to the High Point community and the Congregational Christian Church denomination.
J. Taylor Stanley, A History of Black Congregational Christian Churches of the South (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1987); phone interview and correspondence with Rev. Dr. A. Knighton Stanley; phone interview and correspondence with Rev. Dr. Henry Simmons; personal interview with Ruth Alexander McDowell; personal interview with Bettye Corry; “Tentative Plans for the All-Church Family Conference” (July, 1960); Souvenir Program, Seventy-Fifth Anniversary, 1895-1970, Pilgrim United Church of Christ; “Dedication Program, Congregational United Church of Christ, July 23, 1972.”