Beloved Friends- Sunday we will celebrate the Feast Day of Absalom Jones.
Absalom Jones was born enslaved to Abraham Wynkoop a wealthy Anglican planter in 1746 in Delaware. He would go on to be an abolitionist and clergyman who, due to his passion for the gospel and courage to speak truth to power, became a very important figure in our faith story. Disappointed at racial discrimination in a local Methodist church, with Richard Allen, he founded the Free African Society, a mutual aid society for African Americans in the city. In 1786 the membership of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia included both blacks and whites. However, the white members met that year and decided that black members should sit only in the balcony. This, like many moments in our collective faith story- needs to be remembered, called out and learned from. It was, thank God, for all of us today, not the end of the story.
Two black Sunday worshippers, Absalom Jones (1746-1818) and Richard Allen (1760-1831), whose enthusiasm for the Methodist Church had brought many blacks into the congregation, learned of the decision only when, on the following Sunday, ushers tapped them on the shoulder during the opening prayers, and demanded that they move to the balcony without waiting for the end of the prayer. They walked out, followed by the other black members.
Absalom Jones conferred with William White, Episcopal Bishop of Philadelphia, who agreed to accept the group as an Episcopal parish. Jones would serve as lay reader, and, after a period of study, would be ordained and serve as rector. Allen wanted the group to remain Methodist, and in 1793 he left to form a Methodist congregation. In 1816 he left the Methodists to form a new denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). Jones (ordained deacon and priest in 1795 and 1802) and Allen (ordained deacon and elder in 1799 and 1816) were the first two black Americans to receive formal ordination in any denomination.
As is the case for every Feast day, our tradition assigns a particular set of readings to underscore the import of the life and ministry of the ancestor we honor that day. No gospel text could be more significant in my mind than the passage we will hear from John:
Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. (John 15:12-15)
Come home to Trinity@Home this Sunday to be fed and inspired by the life of Absalom Jones. We will be joined by my friend and colleague and priest in the diocese, the Rev. Chris Decatur from St. Luke’s in Cleveland who will be preaching and sharing a beautiful story underscoring this amazing story of love and courage.
May you never forget that you are loved,