Meet the first female Haitian to be appointed a United Methodist pastor in the Florida Conference and possibly in the U.S.
Rev. Tamara Isidore is pastor of Friendship UMC, Clearwater, and chairperson of the Florida Conference Committee on Haitian Ministry. She describes ministry as being part of her DNA. Her parents and grandparents were ministers, and she felt her own calling to ministry at age 12.
“My parents sent my siblings and me to the best school possible in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In return, we taught and trained others in the church who were unable to get an education. Helping others and teaching Sunday school for those my age or a bit younger became my passion,” she explains.
|Rev. Tamara Isidore|
When Isidore and her family moved to Florida from Haiti in 1991, it was natural for her to continue serving in the church, a journey that has not been without its challenges. With 11 children at home — seven of her own plus three nieces and a nephew — finding a balance between family and ministry was a constant struggle. Still, she persevered to graduate from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2011 while serving as a local pastor in the South Central District.
Other challenges Isidore faced involved how members of her church congregations responded to her personally — to her gender and Haitian heritage.
“As a woman pastor, I was viewed many times more as the pastor’s wife. The members would bring me their children to babysit when they were going to work or leaving town,” she says.
“People within my own denomination, some in the early 1990s who were local pastors just like me, would not address me as ‘Pastor’ because they were not comfortable with women in the ministry. My husband would have to remind them quite often that he was not the pastor.”
Regarding the prejudice she has experienced for her ethnicity, Isidore recounts when she was appointed to a Caucasian congregation at a time when Haiti was in the news, shortly after the January 2010 earthquake. Some people just didn’t know how to handle having a black, female, Haitian pastor in their all-white congregation, she says.
“Some people were honest enough to meet with me and let me know that they would not change for anything in the world. They are past 70-plus years old and have no desire to change at their age. I loved them for their sincerity and thanked them for their honesty and wished them well.
“The hardest for me to cope with are the ones who remain and believe they are not prejudiced against my color or my accent, but their attitudes, words and actions are a living witness of what is in their hearts. There are times they don’t even realize that some of the things they say and do are offensive.
“I have been told not to say I am a ‘Haitian American’ but rather an ‘American citizen,’” Isidore added. “There are those who will avoid crossing my path so they will not have to greet me, even as their pastor.”
To overcome these challenges, Isidore has dedicated herself to a life of prayer and resolve. She says that our world and church are changing, but some people just don’t know how to take it. Through the years, she has come to accept that the only person she can change is herself.
“I try to live as an open book for those around me, so they can see that I am very grateful and proud of who the Lord is making me. … I pray a lot. I love a lot. I pray a lot again. I tell myself prejudice is a disease and I have no part in it. I talk about it openly as the Lord leads, and I ask the Lord to always help me walk with my head held high. Love always wins.”
– Catherine Ryan is a freelance writer based in Greenville, S.C.