February 13: Absalom Jones, Priest, 1818

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Absalom Jones Icon

About this commemoration

Absalom Jones was born a house slave in 1746 in Delaware. He taught himself to read out of the New Testament, among other books. When sixteen, he was sold to a store owner in Philadelphia. There he attended a night school for Blacks, operated by Quakers. At twenty, he married another slave, and purchased her freedom with his earnings.

Jones bought his own freedom in 1784. At St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, he served as lay minister for its Black membership. The active evangelism of Jones and that of his friend, Richard Allen, greatly increased Black membership at St. George’s. The alarmed vestry decided to segregate Blacks into an upstairs gallery, without notifying them. During a Sunday service when ushers attempted to remove them, the Blacks indignantly walked out in a body.

In 1787, Black Christians organized the Free African Society, the first organized Afro-American society, and Absalom Jones and Richard Allen were elected overseers. Members of the Society paid monthly dues for the benefit of those in need. The Society established communication with similar Black groups in other cities. In 1792, the Society began to build a church, which was dedicated on July 17, 1794.

The African Church applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on the following conditions: 1, that they be received as an organized body; 2, that they have control over their local affairs; 3, that Absalom Jones be licensed as layreader, and, if qualified, be ordained as minister. In October 1794 it was admitted as St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. Bishop White ordained Jones as deacon in 1795 and as priest on September 21, 1802.

Jones was an earnest preacher. He denounced slavery, and warned the oppressors to “clean their hands of slaves.” To him, God was the Father, who always acted on “behalf of the oppressed and distressed.” But it was his constant visiting and mild manner that made him beloved by his own flock and by the community. St. Thomas Church grew to over 500 members during its first year. Known as “the Black Bishop of the Episcopal Church,” Jones was an example of persistent faith in God and in the Church as God’s instrument

Stained glass window in St. George's Episcopal Church, Dayton, OH, crafted by Willet Stained Glass, 2000


I    Set us free, O heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of thy servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which thou hast given us in thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

II    Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Isaiah 11:1–5

Galatians 5:1–5

John 15:12–15

Psalm 137:1–6

Preface of a Saint (1)

Text from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

Additional link: http://www.aecst.org/ – The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia, PA

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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16 thoughts on “February 13: Absalom Jones, Priest, 1818

  1. Bio, Blessed Absalom needs a ‘who is he’ and ‘why is he important’ statement; and, a ‘He died in 1818.’statement.

    As I have commented on previous commemorations, this bio employs terminology for African Americans that is not consistent throughout HWHM: Blacks, Black membership, Black Christians, Afro-American society, Black groups, African Church, Black Bishop of the Episcopal Church. HWHM needs to adopt a consistent editorial usage throughout the volume.

    • Michael’s point about terminology is well advised and relevant in many commemorations, but this one especially cried out for refinement of the racial references. (I realize LFF has used the terminology in HWHM for many editions.) The commemoration of Absalom Jones and his work is an important event for the church, invoving a person who embodies an exemplary and living faith, therefore expressing it in obsolete references to race stands out all the more. I also have to wonder about the “rules” for use of upper case letters. Names of organizations, of course, deserve to be treated as proper nouns and stated in their actual terminology. Collective nouns, whatever the word, need to be weighed accordingly.

      (And the collect is superb.) 🙂

  2. I have always found this a most signifant annual celebration. It is an important event in the history of the Episcopal Church, for all of us, not simply for Black Episcopalians. I think the story of his departure from St George’s Methodist and the founding of St Thomas is something we all need to celrbrate. I would revse, or eblarge the bio to be more specific and helpful.
    it can and should be universally observed in TEC.

  3. I assume St Thomas’s is in Philadelphia, and if so the bio should say so. I hope it is still in existence, and if so let’s say that too. A living connection with so important a historical figure is worth pointing to.

    The collect is good, better than many we’ve seen, but incomplete; it needs an opening vocative and attribution. I’d say something like ‘Almighty and everlasting God, around Whose throne are gathered the faithful of every race and nation, set us free from every bond of prejudice and fear’ etc. I particularly appreciated the ‘honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones’ rather than ‘following the example of’ or the other ideas often used at this point. Some examples I’m not sure I have the courage even to pray that I follow, but I honor them all the more for that.

  4. Line i, first paragraph: substitute “on November 6, 1846,” after “born”.

    Add a fifth paragraph: “Jones died on February 13, 1818, in Philadelphia”.

  5. I don’t see much of a link between Jones’ career and the OT reading. How about Deuteronomy 26:1-9 instead?
    And how about a more informative title? If “priest” is the most significant thing about Jones’ career, why is he here? I’d be happiest with “Absalom Jones, ‘the Back Bishop of the Episcopal Church,’ 1818,” but I’d settle for something like “First African-American Priest.”

  6. I love the second collect, have shared the information with others and on my page and appreciate your work greatly. Thank you so much. I sometimes wish I had more time to put into efforts such as this bot most times am simply filled with gratitude there are folks like you who do so for me.

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