Celebrating Absalom Jones

The man known as the first “Black Bishop” in the Episcopal Church, Absalom Jones, will be commemorated at a special Evening Prayer service at St. Paul’s Sunday February 26th @ 4 pm. The use of quotation marks is due to Absalom Jones being ordained a priest, not a bishop. But his reputation for care for people and congregations far and wide earned him the nickname.

The Evening Prayer service will be conducted by Julett Butler, a regular presence and friend of St. Paul’s who is a parishioner at Christ Church and who is in training to become an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The sermon will be delivered by The Rev. Canon Allan Ford, Vicar of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Staatsburg.

The biography of Absalom Jones is an inspiration. Born a slave, he taught himself to read using the New Testament. This means he was Biblically familiar enough to discern the words he knew in print before he could actually read. He purchased the freedom of his wife some years before he purchased his own. He served as a lay minister for the black membership of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia with Richard Allen. Black membership of the church grew so greatly that white members chose to segregate black members in an upstairs gallery. The black members walked out in protest.

Absalom Jones and Richard Allen helped organize the Free African Society in 1787. They built a church and applied to the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania for membership, on the condition that they be permitted to manage their own affairs and that Absalom Jones be ordained a priest. He was ordained a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1802. His church grew to 500 members in its first year.