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RIP: Dr. Ella Mitchell: serene minister, educator

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by Kirsten Tagami, Atlanta Journal Constitution

ellamitchellDr. Ella Mitchell had a way of attracting people, whether it was by her powerful sermonizing or by the warmth that radiated from within.

She was famous as a Baptist minister, author and expert in Christian education. Ebony magazine named her as one of the country’s top 15 black women preachers.

But even people who had no idea who she was were drawn to her inner beauty and serenity, said her husband, Dr. Henry Mitchell of Atlanta, one of the country’s foremost experts on African-American preaching.

“People would stop us in airports and remark on her smile. They just had to say something,” he said. “She was one of the most attractive personalities I’ve ever heard of.”

Dr. Ella Mitchell, 91, died at her home in Atlanta Nov. 20 of complications from a stroke. The funeral will be 11 a.m. Tuesday at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Murray Brothers Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Dr. Mitchell was the first female dean of Sisters Chapel at Spelman College, from 1986 to 1988, and was editor of “Those Preachin’ Women,” a multi-volume collection of sermons by female clergy. She also wrote, “Women: To Preach or Not to Preach,” and co-authored with her husband, “Together for Good,” the story of their half-century-plus of married life, published in 1999.

Dr. Mitchell was born in Charleston, S.C., one of four daughters of a Presbyterian minister. She studied at historic Talladega College in Alabama before becoming the second African-American to graduate from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She earned her doctor of ministry degree from the Claremont School of Theology in California.

She taught religious education and early childhood education at many institutions, including the Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University in Richmond, and American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley, Calif.

Although she had served on national boards, filled in for her husband as a preacher, and became well-known as an educator, she was not ordained for much of her ministry.

Dr. Mitchell finally became an ordained minister in 1978 shortly after the death of her mother, who had been opposed to the idea. She was ordained at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, Calif., and preached at churches around the country, including Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist.

The Mitchells had a wide circle of friends, including a who’s who of religion in America. In a 2001 article about the couple in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fred Craddock, professor emeritus of preaching at Emory University, said Dr. Ella Mitchell had “contributed a great deal with reference to women in the pulpit — not just black women but all women.”

She and her husband were inseparable, delivering two-person “dialogue sermons,” singing together and often wearing matching clothes both in and out of the pulpit.

In recent years, the couple went to a health club together. He would swim laps while she took water aerobics classes to stay fit. Exercise was key to Dr. Mitchell’s long life, her husband said.

In addition to her husband, survivors include two daughters, Muriel Lawrence of Ewing, N.J.. and the Rev. Elizabeth Clement of Atlanta; son Kenneth Mitchell of Tallahassee, Fla.; two sisters, Ermine Washington of Walterboro, S.C., and Lurline Cotton of Atlanta; six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

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Written by Symphony

November 30, 2008 at 9:24 am

Posted in Rest In Peace

Tagged with ,

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