New York cathedral is among churches celebrating Absalom Jones

Blessed Absalom Jones was the first African-American ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. Image/Episcopal Church Archives

Episcopal churches and institutions are preparing to mark Blessed Absalom Jones’ pioneering life as an abolitionist and the first African American ordained an Episcopal priest.

Jones’ feast day is celebrated around Feb. 13, the date of his death in 1818. Born into slavery in 1746, Jones was allowed to learn to read and write at a school in Philadelphia run by an abolitionist, later purchased his wife’s freedom and petitioned for and gained his own freedom.

According to a profile on the Episcopal Archives site, Jones served as lay minister for the black membership at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, with his friend, Richard Allen. Together they established the Free African Society to aid in the emancipation of slaves and to offer sustenance and spiritual support to widows, orphans, and the poor.  

Facing racism at St. George’s, Jones and Allen, with the assistance of local Quakers and Episcopalians, established in 1792 the “First African Church” in Philadelphia, which was accepted into the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.

Jones became a deacon in 1795 and was ordained a priest in 1802, at age 56. He continued to be a leader in his community, founding 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.

The Diocese of New York has announced it will celebrate Jones’ life and work at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Saturday, Feb. 11. The service will be held at 10:30 a.m. EST and streamed live on on the cathedral website,  on the cathedral YouTube channel and on the cathedral Facebook page.

The Diocese of Ohio will celebrate Absalom Jones and the episcopate of the late Bishop Barbara Harris, who was African-American and the Episcopal Church’s first female bishop with a service at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, on Feb. 11 at 11 a.m., EST.

In Raleigh, N.C., Saint Augustine’s University, a historical black college associated with the Episcopal Church, will commemorate Jones with a service on Feb. 11. An alumnus, the Rev. Allen Robinson, rector of Grace Church in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y., will preach.

Saint Augustine’s is one of two historically black colleges associated with the Episcopal Church, the other being Voorhees University in Denmark, S.C. Both are beneficiaries of the Episcopal Church’s Absalom Jones Fund.

According to Saint Augustine’s website, more than one-third of all black priests in the Episcopal Church, including three African-American bishops, are graduates of the university.

For news of more celebrations of Jones’ life and ministry, click on this link to the Union of Black Episcopalians.

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