Pastor Candace Hardnett was born in the rural town of Remington, Virginia. She and her family lived next door to their home church of Providence Baptist Church, one that was founded with the help of one of Hardnett’s great-grandfathers. Her grandmother was a deaconess at the church and was instrumental in Hardnett’s participation in church activities from an early age. She recounts knowing that she was meant to be a pastor from as young as four years old, during a church service. She had wandered off while a deacon was asking about the story of Jesus and the five loaves and two fish. Though she did not know the answer, a mysterious voice told her the answer, then told her to rejoin the group. Another Sunday, she felt the same voice tell her to “Go sit down and pay attention. I want you to be a pastor.” Though the concept of women pastors and preachers was unfamiliar to her, Hardnett had no doubt that it was her destiny to become one. Unfortunately, when her family moved in 1989, Hardnett found herself no longer connected to her home church.
Hardnett had a difficult home life and dealt with abuse from her stepfather. She found herself turning to rootwork and witchcraft as a form of defense against him and would come to denounce the Christianity of her youth. In 1997, she graduated high school and was enrolled in Elizabeth City State University to study in the music industry and performance. Though she only attended for one year, she found herself faced with discrimination because she was an out gay woman. She later attended University of Tampa in 1999 to study biology but dropped out to fully focus on her career as a personal trainer.
Hardnett found herself with a newfound drive to accomplish what she had only dreamt about before and went on to acquire her cosmetology license. After enduring the tragedy of her grandmother’s passing she decided to enroll in the Marine Corps despite pushback from her mother. It was in the Marine Corps that she graduated boot camp as an honor grad and obtained her Bachelors and Masters degrees in religion and divinity from Liberty University.
Hardnett returned to the faith of her childhood after a chance meeting with a Pentecostal woman from Boston. The two entered into a relationship despite their spiritual differences, but a chance encounter one night with forces beyond Hardnett’s comprehension led Hardnett’s then-girlfriend to pray for her salvation. Hardnett later recounted that she found it affirming that God sent a woman to lead her back to Christ instead of a man. It was this event that steered her in the direction of a deeper, more comprehensive study of what the Bible truly said about being queer and led to the conclusion that nothing was truly said about it.
Within her community, Hardnett advocates for the rights of those being marginalized, including members of the LGBTQ community and African-Americans. She is pastor of Agape Empowerment Ministries located in Savannah, Georgia, a church that is one of the few openly affirming churches that centers the experiences of those who are both African-American and LGBTQ. The church was opened on January 4th, 2009, and has since celebrated over 14 years of serving the spiritual needs of her community. Hardnett is the chair of the LGBTQ Task Force located in Savannah and participates in rallies, marches, and petitions centered on those whose rights are actively being taken away. She is also the chairwoman of the Reformation Project board of directors and works as Lead Organizer for Educate Us, a non-profit organization that advocates for more comprehensive sex education in public schools.
Hardnett desires for her legacy to be one centered on helping others get to where they need to go in life. She considers herself blessed to have been someone who stood on the shoulders of giants and benefitted from those who came before her, and wants to do the same within her community. She wants people to be able to say that they had the confidence to go and pursue their destinies because of her and her work in the world.
(This biographical statement was written by Dorya Mason from an interview with Candace Hardnett and edited by Hardnett.)
Biography Date: August 2023
Clergy Activist | Black | Reformation Project | Savannah | Georgia
“Pastor Candace Hardnett | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed September 27, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/candace-hardnett.