In 1802, Absalom Jones, born into slavery in Delaware, became the first black priest in the Episcopal Church, co-founding and serving what became the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – the present-day church website is here. Jones’ feast day is February 13, and this year Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has invited the church to give Absalom Jones Offerings on February 9 to the two remaining Episcopal HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), St. Augustine’s University in Raleigh, N.C. and Vorhees College in Denmark, S.C. (at one time, there were 10 such schools in the U.S.).
From the TEC press release, published in full by Episcopal News Service:
“Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are essential institutions that help prepare people from diverse backgrounds for success in an array of vital professions,” Presiding Bishop Curry said. “As we approach the celebration of Blessed Absalom Jones, the first African-American priest in The Episcopal Church, it is fitting that we honor his memory by lending our support to two schools that continue to form new African-American leaders. The Episcopal Church is delighted to designate Saint Augustine’s University and Voorhees College as the beneficiaries of the 2020 Feast of Absalom Jones offerings.”
The two institutions of higher education were founded in the later 19th century to provide educational opportunities to formerly enslaved persons. “These schools bring educational, economic, and social opportunity to often resource-poor communities, and they offer many blessings into the life of The Episcopal Church,” Curry said.
Donations to the HBCUs will help support scholarships and financial aid for students in need as well as funding for quality facilities, faculty recruitment and retention, and the development of religious life on campus.
“The Episcopal Church established and made a life-long covenant with these schools, and they are an essential part of the fabric of our shared life,” the Presiding Bishop noted.
Bulletin inserts can be downloaded here.
The Quakers also supported the founding of St. Thomas and Jones’ ordination, and played an early role in his education. Jones’ first lay ministry was in the black congregation of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal in Philadelphia. From the Episcopal Church history page:
The active evangelism of Jones and [friend and church co-founder Richard] Allen greatly increased black membership at St. George’s. Alarmed by the rise in black attendance, in 1791 the vestry decided to segregate African Americans into an upstairs gallery without notice. When ushers attempted to remove the black congregants, the resentful group exited the church.
In 1792 Jones and Allen, with the assistance of local Quakers and Episcopalians, established the “First African Church” in Philadelphia. Shortly after the establishment that same year, the African Church applied to join the Protestant Episcopal Church, laying before the diocese three requirements: the Church must be received as an already organized body; it must have control over its own affairs; and Jones must be licensed as lay-reader and if qualified, ordained as its minister.
Information on giving to the offering, from the Episcopal Church:
To give today to the Absalom Jones Fund for HBCUs, click here or text GIVEHBCU to 41444 (standard messaging and data rates apply).
For more information, or if your parish or diocese would like to dedicate a collection to the Absalom Jones Offering, contact Cecilia Malm, development officer, email@example.com, 212-716-6062