A few years ago, I was asked to give a lecture on the life of Rev. Joyner. I had heard about her, but in doing the research, she became one of my heroes.
Rev. Joyner was born June 17, 1917 to Vilula “Lula” Mae McKeithen and Owens Travis Joyner in Natchez, MS. She grew up in Grayson, LA, where her father worked in the Timber business until getting a job as janitor in the Grayson High School. Her cousin Bud McKeithen wanted to become a preacher, and since Lea admired him, she wanted to be one too. She would preach to her dolls and to the birds in the woods! She could not remember a time when she didn’t want to preach.
Rev. Joyner’s middle name as given to her at birth was spelled Lee. After she set her mind to be in the ministry, a friend suggested she change her name from Lee to Lea to make her name more feminine. She spelled it Lea from then on. Rev. Joyner was planning on becoming a missionary to India, but her heart was in the ministry.
Rev. Joyner was trained as a teacher at Westminster College in Tehuacana, TX. Each semester she added one bible course. After Westminister, she entered High Point College in North Carolina. During this time period, she decided to never marry. She had fallen in love with a fellow preacher named Harmon Dillard, but her duty to her family and her church came first. After college she came back home to care for her parents. In 1939, she finally realized part of her dream. Rev. Travis Lea Joyner was ordained January 1, 1939. She then set to work as pastor of the Columbia circuit (founding Columbia Heights Methodist Church) and taught school.
At almost every turn she faced resistance. Very few accepted a female pastor. She decided to take a trip to California to get away from the pressure. She visited Father Junipero Serra’s Mission church in Carmel, California, where she lit a candle and prayed. While kneeling in prayer, she rededicated her life to God.
After five years in Columbia, Rev. Joyner was offered the job of assistant to the minister at First Methodist Monroe. Her time here under the pastorship of Dr. Adrian Serex would prepare her for her ministry. As assistant to the minister, she established three mission churches: Gibson’s Chapel, North Grand and South Grand. She traveled to each one and to the Fairbanks church to preach. Sometimes the church only had three in attendance but Lea preached as if the church was full! It was during this time that Southside church was born. In addition to her work in the church, she still took care of her parents. She would leave Monroe Friday afternoon to stay with her parents in Grayson till late Saturday morning. She eventually moved them to Monroe where they lived the rest of their life.
There is a great story of Rev. Joyner’s generosity. After a revival in her old church at Columbia Heights, she was given a bag of money collected during the service. She looked around, handed it back and told the minister to buy new hymnals for the church!
Rev. Joyner had a burning desire to plant a church on Monroe’s south side. She went to the Bishop to ask for ten thousand dollars, which is normally given to plant a church. The Bishop only gave her five thousand. It didn’t deter her.
On July 13, 1952, Southside had its first service in the Missouri Pacific Railroad Booster Hall. Their slogans were “The friendly church on the Southside of Monroe” and “Come with us and we will do thee Good”. $7.58 was collected at the first offering. On July 27th, ground was broken on a church building. Sixteen days later, the building was complete and the first service in the new sanctuary was August 31st. By the end of the first year, the church had 237 members. Lea worked sixteen to twenty hours a day at the church. She sometimes slept on a couch there when she was too tired to go home!
Rev. Joyner placed a strong emphasis on mission work. She once said, “We are God’s hands, we are God’s feet. We are going where He wants us to go, we are doing what He wants us to do. What we are doing makes a difference to many people. They believed Jesus when he said so long ago, “In as much as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
Nineteen preachers would come from Lea’s church. Only one, Dorothy McGowan, was a woman. Many times, she bought their training materials out of her personal funds. Glenn Artt, one of her students, became a Baptist preacher and another, Robert Trent, Jr. became an Episcopal minister! Trent and Joyner baptized his niece together.
Her work was tremendous and she never ceased to serve. After pastoring Southside United Methodist Church for 33 years, Lea was murdered by Warren Eaton March 12, 1985. Thousands attended her funeral at the Civic Center. She was laid to rest with her parents at Mulhearn Cemetery. In June of that same year the Louisville Bridge was renamed in her honor. In July, the Monroe Civic Center Expressway was renamed the Lea Joyner Memorial Expressway. In December a window at the Glenwood Hospital chapel was dedicated in her honor. The next year Southside was renamed Lea Joyner Memorial.
I’ve only brushed over her achievements to give you a hint of her life. I highly encourage you to find out about Rev. Joyner on your own. Believe me, you will come away amazed!