Rev. Dr. Carol Garrett and Her Journey to Become the First Woman to Pastor- The Historic Parsells Church


Cover Photo: Rev. Dr. Carol M. Garrett


Rev. Dr. Carol Marie Garrett, affectionately known to her congregation as Rev. C., has become the first woman to serve as pastor of the Parsells Church, that has been in the community since 1895.

On April 1, 2018, she began her duties as pastor of The Historic Parsells Church and was officially installed on Pentecost Sunday, May 20, 2018.

The span of years that separates each historic occurrence dates back more than 120 years.

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, and grew-up in Rochester, NY. Rev. C has earned an Associate Degree in Accounting, and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Management from St. John Fisher College, before earning a Master of Divinity from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.

Our Conversation:

Southwest Tribune: Background?

Rev. C:

I spent my early years as a youth in Rochester and the latter part of it in Florida, where I finished high school. Shortly afterwards, I got married and began raising a family in Atlanta, Georgia, before returning to Rochester in 1987.

When I got back, I fiddled through the phone book in search of a church and found, God Temple of Holy Praise. I stayed with that ministry for 23 years (1987-2010.)

Southwest Tribune: Your Path to the Ministry?

Rev C:

The culmination of my final steps to the ministry started at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in 2007, when I was there earning my Masters.

Through my studies, I was inspired to complete a certification course at the Billy Graham School in Evangelism. And from that point, my path to the ministry were in little steps.

A remembrance to “stay humbled,” is one of the things my former pastor would say, before he passed away. And that’s what I did. And I did so, without a drawn conclusion that continuing to be humbled would get me to the point, where I am today.

Southwest Tribune: How long have you been associated with Parsells Church?

Rev C:

I’m one of the original founders and former executive minister of Christ Community Church, before becoming the assistant pastor.

In 2015, we merged with Parsells Church and renamed it, The Historic Parsells Church. Shortly after, we were challenged with two unforeseen circumstances that begins with a massive flood, which forced the church to evacuate the building.

So, our congregation began worshipping at Covenant United Methodist Church, right across the street from Parsells Avenue.

The second unforeseen circumstance was the resignation of our pastor.

Southwest Tribune: The Parsells Church was started and managed by women. Why did it take more than a Century to appoint a woman as its leader?

Rev. C:

I don’t know? I can speculate the Old Boys Club- (she chuckles)

Southwest Tribune: Is it because, the Baptist denomination historically diverts a woman from becoming a preacher?

Rev. C:

American Baptist, which I’m ordained is recognized throughout the United States. And under that, we’re autonomous. We can function in ministry, how we choose. And, they’re quite a few women that has pastored churches in the American Baptist denomination.

From a Black Church perspective, I think more people lean towards a male figure than a woman, thinking a man can do it better. But, I know some women ministers that can out preach the average man.

Southwest Tribune: The first women to lead The Historic Parsells Church in more than 120 years. From your perspective: This historic moment in context?

Rev. C:

It’s a [wow] moment! As I begin to think about the impact it will have on the community in having a woman lead this church in its more than 100 years history is phenomenal!

I don’t know, how else to explain it. At times, I still ask myself is this really happening? But within the joy, I also recognized this historic moment, as a transformative opportunity for the Black Church and others to see that women have been behind the lines for so long. And it’s time for them to come forward. We have something to say. We have a voice!

Southwest Tribune: Impact on young girls of color?

I wrote in my dissertation, [as women, we’ve been historically marginalized and dissuaded from the pulpit, because of our gender; especially if you’re a woman of color.]

It’s prevalent in Southern parts of the U.S. and mainstream churches, right here in Rochester. We can be missionaries, a Sunday school teacher, and sing our hearts out in church, but don’t think about crossing those lines and entering the pulpit.

Nonetheless, it’s time for those barriers to fall. All those before me had supposedly paved the way, but we’re still getting that backlash.

Southwest Tribune: Your dissertation titled- The Fabric of Discontent Between Church and Community: A Prophetic Message?

Rev. C:

I live on the east-side of the city, off Portland Avenue, on Holbrooke Street. I bought my home there in 1995 and I refuse to move. So, everyday you witness the plight of the people. You see the drugs and hear the shootings.

In my dissertation, I used my connection with the church and the community to project- [How the church has fallen short in providing its works of mercy and justice to a group of people that needs it.]

Southwest Tribune: Does your dissertation play any role in the crafting of your vision and mission for The Historic Parsells Church?

Rev. C:

Yes. The ‘vision’ is to make the church ‘relevant’ and resourceful to the community it serves. However, the ‘grand mission’ is to gather ‘one’ person from every church in the city of Rochester at one location, and begin to pray and work together, instead of being divided.

I believe, the power of ‘unification’ can quickly transform our communities and neighborhoods. Unity among the affected and those who are not affected, has always been the ‘solution’ to any societal problem. The forced fragmentation (segregation) of our communities has only served as the harbinger of the societal problems that Rochester and other urban cities alike, continues to suffer from today.

Southwest Tribune: What is one thing the church will do to reach-out to the community that it hasn’t done under past leaderships?

Rev. C:

Twice a month, in June, July and August, we’re going to have “Sermon on the Steps! And we’re inviting the entire community to bring their family and chairs.

I’m going to preach outside of the church, oppose to always having our worship services inside. We’re told to speak like Jesus and walk like Jesus and live like Jesus, but we stay confined to four walls.

If, we’re going to be like Jesus, we must be outside of those walls, where we’re able to reach the community, like Jesus did. We need to get into the ‘relevance’ of right now.
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