The photo above is courtesy of The Union of Black Episcopalians.
Article by Rev. Elizabeth Ewing, Rector at Christ Episcopal Church, Binghamton, and other members of the diocesan Anti-racism Team
“May we show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God”
–Collect for the Feast Day honoring Absalom Jones, ordained an Episcopal deacon in 1795 and priest in 1802.
From the arrival of the first Africans in what would become the United States, the people of this land have wrestled with a preference for white over black. The struggle again is at the forefront in our nation. Over the centuries some have stood up in favor of the dignity of every human being, or at least living with more than a nod to it, and for this we honor the courage and faithfulness of Absalom Jones whose feast day is February 13th.
In 1786 Philadelphia, a Methodist Episcopal Church with a congregation of white and black people decided that all black people should sit in the balcony. Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, regular communicants, did not know of the decision until ushers tapped them on the shoulder and pointed upstairs. This act of setting black congregants as “less than” sparked a long chain of events in which Jones and Allen maintained their dignity and that of all black congregants by walking out of that particular congregation but not abandoning the Church.
Jones and Allen formed their own church community, and the Episcopal bishop proposed ordaining Jones and Allen. Allen went with the Methodist Church (still in its new days), and Jones with the newly formed Episcopal Church (now separate from the Church of England). Jones became an Episcopal priest in 1802.
Jones continued to lead the Episcopal community, focusing especially serving the African American community. He founded a day school (as African Americans were excluded from attending public school), the Female Benevolent Society, and an African Friendly Society. In 1800 he called upon Congress to abolish the slave trade and to provide for gradual emancipation of existing slaves. Jones died in 1818.
One would prefer slavery and concrete bias against those with darker skin never existed, but as scripture tells us: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Let us give thanks for Absalom Jones and strive to follow his example.
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 our Saviour Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.