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The Example of Absolom Jones

The Example of Absolom Jones

Today we remember Absalom Jones, one of the most widely-known African-Americans celebrated by the Episcopal Church. Jones was born a slave in 1746, bought his freedom in 1784, and married in 1770. He served as a lay preacher at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church from 1784 – 1786 and helped increase the African-American membership tenfold.  

The result of this increase in membership made the white membership uneasy. During a service, ushers tried to remove all African-American members from the main floor to seats in the balcony. This was an act of segregation that Jones, his friend and co-worker Richard Allen, and the black congregants felt so strongly about that they left the church in a body and formed their own congregations. Allen’s group became the Bethel Church (later Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church). Jones became the Lay Reader and Deacon of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Jones was ordained an Episcopal priest by Bishop William White in 1802. 

Allen and Jones became the organizers of the Free African Society in 1787. It was an organization dedicated to the social, political, and humanitarian efforts among the blacks, helping widows and orphans, relief for the sick, and aiding with burial expenses.  The organization was instrumental in caring for the black community during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. Both men are considered to be founding fathers of the free black community.

Jones’s favorite Bible verse is said to have been Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (NRSV).  Both Jones and Allen continued their work against slavery. They petitioned the Pennsylvania State Legislature in 1799, campaigning for the abolition of slavery. In 1800, they sent a similar petition to the U.S. Congress. Both continued to champion change in both moral and racial arenas. Jones started schools for blacks in Pennsylvania since the state did not support education for them. 

He died on February 13, 1818. Both blacks and whites attended his funeral service, and he was laid to rest in the St. Thomas churchyard.

I wonder what Jones would have thought of the long struggle African-Americans have undergone to achieve equality in even the most basic rights. As I grew up in the South, I saw segregation daily, but didn’t give it much thought since it seemed to be, as the old saying goes, “Just the way it is.” Even though in my hometown, blacks and whites lived side-by-side in many places, churches, and schools, even gas-station restrooms were segregated and quite often inferior in construction and maintenance. It’s taken me many years to learn to see this pattern as utterly wrong, demeaning, and totally hurtful. It has taken a long time even to start to learn to see through others’ eyes, and even now, it isn’t the easiest thing in the world.

I do have to keep in mind the verse that Jones embodied. It certainly is one that Christians don’t hear often enough. Slavery of various kinds are still widespread throughout our world: homelessness, addiction, sexual trafficking, suppression of human rights – all are forms of slavery, and there are lots more. We just have to think about them more often and with more follow-up action. Sometimes even religion can be slavery. I have to really think about that one, especially since I see more of it (or as I perceive it). 

Christ has set us free so that we can stand firm against slavery. Sin is undoubtedly slavery, as much as we hate hearing it said. How often do we think about the things we do being hurtful to others before we act or say the words? Perhaps that is the problem of sin – it is often relatively easy to ignore the consequences. 

Today we remember Absalom Jones, one of the most widely-known African-Americans celebrated by the Episcopal Church. Jones was born a slave in 1746, bought his freedom in 1784, and married in 1770. He served as a lay preacher at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church from 1784 – 1786 and helped increase the African-American membership tenfold.  

The result of this increase in membership made the white membership uneasy. During a service, ushers tried to remove all African-American members from the main floor to seats in the balcony. This was an act of segregation that Jones, his friend and co-worker Richard Allen, and the black congregants felt so strongly about that they left the church in a body and formed their own congregations. Allen’s group became the Bethel Church (later Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church). Jones became the Lay Reader and Deacon of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Jones was ordained an Episcopal priest by Bishop William White in 1802. 

Allen and Jones became the organizers of the Free African Society in 1787. It was an organization dedicated to the social, political, and humanitarian efforts among the blacks, helping widows and orphans, relief for the sick, and aiding with burial expenses.  The organization was instrumental in caring for the black community during the yellow fever epidemic of 1793. Both men are considered to be founding fathers of the free black community.

Jones’s favorite Bible verse is said to have been Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (NRSV).  Both Jones and Allen continued their work against slavery. They petitioned the Pennsylvania State Legislature in 1799, campaigning for the abolition of slavery. In 1800, they sent a similar petition to the U.S. Congress. Both continued to champion change in both moral and racial arenas. Jones started schools for blacks in Pennsylvania since the state did not support education for them. 

He died on February 13, 1818. Both blacks and whites attended his funeral service, and he was laid to rest in the St. Thomas churchyard.

I wonder what Jones would have thought of the long struggle African-Americans have undergone to achieve equality in even the most basic rights. As I grew up in the South, I saw segregation daily, but didn’t give it much thought since it seemed to be, as the old saying goes, “Just the way it is.” Even though in my hometown, blacks and whites lived side-by-side in many places, churches, and schools, even gas-station restrooms were segregated and quite often inferior in construction and maintenance. It’s taken me many years to learn to see this pattern as utterly wrong, demeaning, and totally hurtful. It has taken a long time even to start to learn to see through others’ eyes, and even now, it isn’t the easiest thing in the world.

I do have to keep in mind the verse that Jones embodied. It certainly is one that Christians don’t hear often enough. Slavery of various kinds are still widespread throughout our world: homelessness, addiction, sexual trafficking, suppression of human rights – all are forms of slavery, and there are lots more. We just have to think about them more often and with more follow-up action. Sometimes even religion can be slavery. I have to really think about that one, especially since I see more of it (or as I perceive it). 

Christ has set us free so that we can stand firm against slavery. Sin is undoubtedly slavery, as much as we hate hearing it said. How often do we think about the things we do being hurtful to others before we act or say the words? Perhaps that is the problem of sin – it is often relatively easy to ignore the consequences. 

With Ash Wednesday coming in a few days, perhaps it’s time to think about what giving up things is all about. It goes beyond giving up something that we usually see or experience as pleasurable or fun. It is an opportunity to take on things that could benefit others. It is also a chance to look at our catalogs of personal (or corporate) sins and detach ourselves from them, like cutting the chains of slavery. 

God bless.

Image: Portrait of Absalom Jones, by Raphaelle Peale (1810). From the Delaware Art Museum. Found on Wikimedia Commons.

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter.  She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.

It is also a chance to look at our catalogs of personal (or corporate) sins and detach ourselves from them, like cutting the chains of slavery.

God bless.

Image: Portrait of Absalom Jones, by Raphaelle Peale (1810). From the Delaware Art Museum. Found on Wikimedia Commons.

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, Baroque and Renaissance music lover, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter.  She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.

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Philip B. Spivey

There were no “slaves” in the antebellum South and North; there were “enslaved Africans”.

If “black” is used to denote a racial/ethnic group like African Americans, the ‘b” is capitalized, i.e., “Black”.

Please update your editorial standard.

Byron

Philip—I agree with your first sentence: That’s one reason we worked to revise Absalom’s bio in LF&F 2018. Have you seen it? Linda Ryan had not!
Your second sentence is more complicated. Capitalization of the B actually goes back to the NAACP movement to capitalize the N in “negro.” I think it’s more political than style or editorial standards. Why not also capitalize the W in white? —Byron (Happy to follow up away from here; if you don’t have my email, try a message thru FB.)

Philip B. Spivey

Byron: I suggest you refer to The New York Times editorial decision to do just that.

Byron

Absalom Jones in Lesser Feasts & Fasts

2018 revision 

https://hsec.us/news/9398482

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