Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Black History Month: Episcopalians

(1746 – Feb. 13, 1818)

Absalom Jones was born into slavery in Delaware in 1746. He attended school in Philadelphia while he worked as a clerk and handyman at a store owned by his master. With the help of friends, Absalom Jones was able to buy his own freedom in 1784.

In 1786 the membership of St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia included both blacks and whites. However, the white members met that year and decided that thereafter black members should sit only in the balcony. Two black Sunday worshippers, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen (1760-1831), whose enthusiasm for the Methodist Church had brought many blacks into the congregation, learned of the decision only when, on the following Sunday, ushers tapped them on the shoulder during the opening prayers, and demanded that they move to the balcony without waiting for the end of the prayer. They walked out, followed by the other black members.

Absalom Jones conferred with the Rt. Rev. William White, Episcopal Bishop of Philadelphia, who agreed to accept the group as an Episcopal parish. Jones would serve as lay reader, and, after a period of study, would be ordained and serve as rector. Allen wanted the group to remain Methodist, and in 1793 he left to form a Methodist congregation. In 1816 he left the Methodists to form a new denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Jones (ordained deacon and priest in 1795 and 1802) and Allen (ordained deacon and elder in 1799 and 1816) were among the first black Americans to receive formal ordination in any denomination.

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