Saturday, February 13, 2016

Calendar of Saints: Absalom Jones

Periodically I post a quote from a saint from the Episcopal Calendar of Saints that week. I connect it with a picture that I have taken as a kind of poster. These are meant to be meditative and mindful, playful and thought inducing. I hope they are helpful in your spiritual journeys.

Absalom Jones (1746 - 1818)
Abolitionist and Priest
February 13

Born into slavery then granted his freedom, Jones became a lay minister at the interracial congregation of St. George's Methodist Church. Together with Richard Allen, he was one of the first African Americans licensed to preach by the Methodist Church.

In 1772, while at St. George's Methodist Church, Absalom Jones and other black members were told that they could not join the rest of the congregation in seating and kneeling on the first floor and instead had to be segregated first sitting against the wall and then on the balcony. After completing their prayer, Jones and the church's black members got up and walked out.

As 1791 began, Rev. Jones started holding religious services at the Free African Society, which the following year became the core of his African Church in Philadelphia. Jones wanted to establish a black congregation independent of white control, while remaining part of the Episcopal Church. After a successful petition, the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first black church in Philadelphia, opened its doors on July 17, 1794. Jones was ordained as a deacon in 1795 and as a priest in 1804, became the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church.

Famous for his oratory, Jones helped establish the tradition of anti-slavery sermons on New Year's Day. His sermon for January 1, 1808, the date on which the U.S. Constitution mandated the end of the African slave trade, called A Thanksgiving Sermon was published in pamphlet-form and became famous. [Note: The words above were part of a hymn written by Michael Fortune and used for the occasion.] Nonetheless, rumors persisted that Rev. Jones possessed supernatural abilities to influence the minds of assembled congregations. White observers failed to recognize his oratory skills, perhaps because they believed rhetoric to be beyond the capabilities of black people. Numerous other African-American leaders faced similar rumors of supernatural activities.


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