Bulletin Insert – February 12, 2017

The Feast of Absalom Jones

Portrait of Absalom Jones by Raphaelle Peale, 1810

On February 13, the church celebrates the Rev. Absalom Jones, the first African American ordained priest in the Episcopal Church.

Jones was born into slavery in Delaware in 1746. While still a slave, he married Mary King, who was also a slave, in 1770. He worked for eight years to buy his wife’s freedom so that their children would be free, and seven years later, he was able to purchase his own freedom.

Jones became an active member of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, serving as lay preacher for the black members of the congregation. A gifted orator, Jones increased black membership in the church at such a rapid rate that white parishioners began trying to segregate the congregation; black parishioners were told by church officials that they would have to sit in the balcony. After a Sunday service in November 1786, when ushers tried to force all black parishioners, including Jones, to the balcony, Jones and his followers left St. George’s.

St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church, 1829. Founded in 1794, St. Thomas’ remains an active parish today.

Jones and Richard Allen, who had been a fellow member of St. George’s, founded the Free African Society in 1787, a nondenominational mutual aid society designed to assist freed slaves.

By 1791, the African Society had evolved into the African Church, which was received into the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1794. The diocese renamed the church St. Thomas’ African Episcopal Church, and it became the first black Episcopal parish in the United States. In 1804 Jones became the first ordained priest of African descent in the Episcopal Church.

Jones died at his home in Philadelphia in 1818, and first appeared on the Episcopal calendar of saints in the Book of Common Prayer in 1979.

Collect for Absalom Jones

Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen (“Holy Women, Holy Men,” p. 221).

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