Annually on February 13, we celebrate the Rev. Absalom Jones, the first African American ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. In 2022, the Feast Day of Absalom Jones falls on a Sunday. On this day, St. John’s will feature liturgy, music, and Christian formation centered around this key figure in our church.
ABOUT ABSALOM JONES:
Absalom Jones was born into slavery in Sussex, Delaware in 1746. He taught himself to read in his early teens from books he purchased by saving pennies given to him by visitors to his master’s home. At the age of sixteen, Jones’ family was separated when his immediate family members were sold and he was taken to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by his new owner. Jones worked as a clerk in his owner’s store by day and was allowed to work for himself and attend an all-black school at night.
Jones saved enough to purchase his own freedom in 1784. He was an active member of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia and served as lay preacher for the black members of the congregation. In 1786, Richard Allen joined Jones at the church and their futures would forever be intertwined. The black membership at St. George’s increased tenfold as a result of the evangelistic efforts of Jones and Allen.
Jones remained as the leader of The African Church which was formally received into the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on October 17, 1794 and renamed St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. St. Thomas was the first black Episcopal parish in the United States. Bishop William White (bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania) ordained Jones a deacon in the Episcopal Church in 1795 and as priest in 1804. Jones became the first ordained priest of African descent in the United States.
FEAST DAY HIGHLIGHTS:
- Liturgical Music: In celebration of this Feast Day, the St. John’s choirs will sing music of contemporary African American composers, and the organ voluntaries at our morning services will feature music by composers Ulysses Kay and David Hurd. At the 10 AM service, which is also live streamed, the adult choir will sing “This little light of mine,” arranged by noted musician Moses Hogan. And at the 7:30 PM Compline service, you will hear a composition by Dr. Marques Garrett, a former member of the Compline Choir and currently Assistant Professor of Choral Music at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.
- Christian Formation: In celebration of this Feast Day, our Sunday morning “Coffee Talk” will be led by the Becoming Beloved Community group, which includes members from St. John’s and from St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church. Conversation at this hybrid forum will focus on the UBE, or Union of Black Episcopalians. Join us at 11:15 AM to learn about this group that formed in the late 1960s and partnered with groups dedicated to the ministry of Blacks in the Episcopal Church. The UBE is now a confederation of more than 55 chapters and interest groups throughout the continental United States and the Caribbean, and on three other continents.
We hope you will join St. John’s on February 13, for prayer and conversation celebrating the Feast of Absalom Jones.