April 14: Edward Thomas Demby & Henry Beard Delany, Bishops, 1957, 1928

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany, two of the first African-American bishops in the Episcopal Church, were instrumental in the struggle of minorities to take their place in the highest positions of leadership in a church often hostile to their presence.

Born in Delaware in 1869, Edward Demby attended Howard University and became an Episcopalian while serving as the Dean of Students at Paul Quinn College in Texas. Bishop John Spalding recognized Demby’s gifts for ministry and sent him to work in the Diocese of Tennessee. Ordained a deacon in 1898 and a priest the next year, he served parishes in Illinois, Missouri, and Florida. In 1907, he returned to Tennessee as rector of Emmanuel Church in Memphis. He was also appointed as the Archdeacon for Colored Work, with responsibilities for the segregated “colored convocations” in the South.

While serving as Archdeacon, Demby was elected Bishop Suffragan for Colored Work in the Diocese of Arkansas and the Province of the Southwest. A major contributor to the westward expansion of the Episcopal Church, Demby drew African Americans into the church through his work with black hospitals, schools, and orphanages. Despite the difficulties he encountered among the white leadership in the South, Demby worked his whole life toward the full recognition of African Americans in the Episcopal Church.

Henry Beard Delany was ordained to the episcopate the same year as Edward Demby. Born a slave in St. Mary’s, Georgia, Delany also served as Archdeacon for Colored Work, working in the Diocese of North Carolina. He was called to be Bishop Suffragan for Colored Work in the Diocese of North Carolina, but his ministry extended into the dioceses of East and Western North Carolina, South Carolina, and Upper South Carolina.

Delany was a strong advocate for the integration of African American Episcopalians into the wider church despite the Jim Crow laws of the day and the efforts of many leaders of the white majority in the church who viewed the presence of men like Demby and Delany as threats to their power and authority.


I  Loving God, we offer thanks for the ministries of Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany, bishops of thy Church who, though limited by segregation, served faithfully to thy honor and glory. Assist us, we pray, to break through the limitations of our own time, that we may minister in obedience to Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

II  Loving God, we thank you for the ministries of Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany, bishops of your Church who, though limited by segregation, served faithfully to your honor and glory. Assist us, we pray, to break through the limitations of our own time, that we may minister in obedience to Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.


Malachi 2:5–7

1 Thessalonians 2:1–12

John 4:31–36

Psalm 119:161-168

Preface of God the Holy Spirit

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

* * *

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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18 thoughts on “April 14: Edward Thomas Demby & Henry Beard Delany, Bishops, 1957, 1928

  1. This commemoration is for Trial Use. All elements (Title, Bio, Scripture and Proper Preface) are new.

    • How nice to read this! I am the grand nephew of Bishop Demby, after whom I was named. I also had the privilege of living with him for a year as a 7 year old child. My name is The Rev. Edward Thomas Payne. My mother, Betty Demby-Payne, is Bishop Demby’s niece. Currently, I am a retired priest in the Diocese of Fouthern Ohio. God Bless!

  2. Collect. This collect does not read or pray well. ‘… break through the limitations of our own time …’ What does that mean?

    Bio. Bishop Delany needs a ‘He was born in ….’statement. Both Bishops need ‘They died in 1957 and 1928 respectively’ statements. I assume that Bishop Demby was born before Bishop Delany because they are listed in that order (though Bishop Demby lived to be 88, and apparently Bishop Delany did not).

    Again in this bio we encounter terms that at inconsistent in HWHM.
    Examples: African-American bishops, African Americans, African American Episcopalians
    Whether or not to utilize a hyphen should be decided.

  3. Delany’s write-up seems thin in comparison with Demby’s, making him appear to be an afterthought. Surely more is known than these scant paragraphs.

  4. Re the collect: not so much “limited” by segregation as “constrained”; perhaps:

    we offer thanks for the ministries of Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany, bishops of thy Church who, though constrained by segregation, served faithfully to thy honor and glory. Assist us, we pray, to break through the assumptions and prejudices of our own society, that…

    • “Constrained” is definitely better, and “to break through the assumptions and prejudices of our own society” even more so.

      I am glad to see these admirable men (and Episcopalian bishops!) being honored. I was surprised that Bishop Delaney’s daughters, who wrote the very popular “Having Our Say” books, were not mentioned in the bio (which I also found to be very scanty). Their books were a door for many middle-class Americans (not only white) to understand the very different world in which they grew up.

      I’m also glad to see TEC facing the fact of institutionalized prejudice in our history. Appointments “for Colored Work” make us flinch today, although for the time they indicated a laudable (if patronizing) concern. I also agree that HWHM needs to adopt a consistent standard for vocabulary, as has been discussed above and earlier. “Black/white,” various versions of African-American, etc as well as an anachronistic PC sensibility which ends up in misstatements of past realities.

      • I am confused because I thought that the Rt. Rev. Dr. Henry B. Delany was the first Black bishop consecrated by the Episcopal Church. The Rt. Rev. James T. Holly was ordained bishop by the American Church Missionary Society, not the Episcopal Church. Holly, by the way, was one year younger than Bishop Delany. The biographies of Edward T. Demby and Henry B. Delany in HWHM do not clear up the confusion over who was first, which may or may not matter. A little searching of the historical records of the General Convention of 1919 revealed that Demby was ordained to Suffragan Bishop on September 29, 1918 at All Saints’ Church, St. Louis, Missouri. [It is interesting to note that the Presiding Bishop presided at the consecration and bishops from Texas and Oklahoma were unable to attend and replaced by a bishop from Kansas. Maybe I am reading more into this than I should. After all, this was the time of the Great Influenza epidemic.] Delany was ordained Suffragan Bishop in Raleigh, NC at St. Augustine’s Chapel on November 21, 1918. Delany’s ordination was postponed from October 11, 1918 because of the influenza epidemic. So it is Demby who was the first, though Delany was the older of the two men. In the bio., since both men were ordained to bishop the same year, I would suggest putting the older man first. I think it would make the bio read better.

        I must confess that I am uncomfortable with the race designations in all three of these commemorations (Holly, Demby and Delany) since all three men were born into mixed race families, although at the time having “any Negro blood” labeled a person Negro/Black/Colored when these men were active in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. (The laws though used a percentage. Having one Negro great-grandparent was sufficient.)

        I am also uncomfortable with the fact that both men, Delany and Demby, were having to cope with segregation by having responsibility for segregated “colored convocations” and separate Black Episcopal churches. As I understand the history of the Episcopal Church, the whole order of “Suffragan” Bishop came about as a result of not wanting “colored” men to have charge over predominately Causasian dioceses so the men were elected to positions which could not be advanced to Bishop of a diocese. There seems to be some “white washing” of a racist period in Church history from the 1880s to the 1950s when segregation became part of the Episcopal Church. I am not sure how one deals with the problems factually and still make the biographies “uplifting”, since Demby and Delany were both truly remarkable men. But this seems to be the appropriate commemoration to acknowledge a period of institutional racism within the Episcopal Church. By 1934 The Rt. Rev. Dr. Demby was deemed “ineffective in the episcopate” during a time when there was little financial and institutional support for his work among Black Episcopalians. In 1938, Demby retired, but he did live long enough to see the beginnings of the demise of institutional racism within the Episcopal Church when he died in Cleveland, Ohio in 1958. Both Demby and Delany also faced opposition because in the eyes of some clergy they are too willing to abide and accommodate the indignity of segregation. In short, they were too “safe.”

        There is much more information about Delany than is given in the all too brief bio. As noted, Delany was born a slave and received his elementary education at a school run by the Freedmen’s Bureau in Fernandina, Florida where the family lived after the Civil War. In 1881, Henry Delany entered St. Augustine’s Normal School and Collegiate Institute (now St. Augustine’s College) , Raleigh, NC (“a historically black college”). [St. Aug.’s was started in 1867 by the Episcopal Church and the Freedmen’s Bureau to train teachers for the newly freed slaves.] After graduation he worked for the college in a number of capacities including designing and assisting in the design of buildings for the campus though he was never formally trained as a architect. These included the chapel, library and St. Agnes Hospital, the first teaching hospital which provided care for Black patients.

        On June 7, 1889, Henry was ordained deacon at Saint Ambrose Episcopal Church, Raleigh, N.C. and three years later was ordained to priesthood in the same church. During his priesthood, he served as vice principal of Saint Augustine’s. The Principal and later President of St. Aug.’s would continue to be a white man until 1947. In 1908 Reverend Delaney became Archdeacon for Colored Work as noted in the HWHM bio. He and his family continued to live on the campus of St. Aug.’s because Delany’s wife, Nannette Logan Delany, taught Home Economics at the college.

        The Rt. Rev. Dr. Delany died at his home on the St. Aug.’s campus in 1928. Two of his 10 children are mentioned above because of their famous autobiography.

  5. My thoughts are simply to encourage the inclusion of this commemoration in whatever form is finally decided. My former kids at St. Andrew’s (multicultural) and my current kids (Anglo) as well as Black kids all need to know about some of these other figures who have had a hand in developing the Episcopal Church. While on vacation last year, I picked up a book in St. Augustine, FL, about Augustine Tolton, purportedly the first Black priest of the United States (Roman). A whole book dedicated to that man. Surely, we can give a complete, comprehensive representation of these two Episcopalians. Based on the comments you receive, get it right, but get it soon. Why not a day in our calendar?

  6. I agree with the comment that Bishop Delany’s bio seems thin when compared to Bishop Demby’s. There is more on Delany at the Black Ministries Website.

    I grew up in a congregation founded by Bishop Delany in NC. He helped found several churches in NC and SC. He proclaimed the Gospel and helped raise up Christians. His legacy continues in the churches he helped found and in the college he helped grow, St. Augustine’s Episcopal College in Raleigh, NC.

  7. It’s not uncommon when scholars publish modern spelling and puntucation versions of texts originally written and spelled in, say, Early Mordern English, to devote part of their introduction to an explanation of their guiding principles. It would be good if, once the editors of HWHM made decsions about Black/black etc. to include such an introduction, explaining thier choices.

  8. According to “African American Lives” by HL Gates & EB Higginbotham:
    Edward T. Demby (13 Feb. 1869 – 14 Oct. 1957)

    According to satucket.com/lectionary:
    Delany, Henry Beard [Feb. 5, 1858-April 14, 1928]

    Why is it so difficult to consistently include such basic information when it is readily available?

    Additional information about Demby is available at:

    Additional information about Delany is available at:

    Both of the episcopal archives pieces include links to additional sources . . .

  9. The subtitle is inadequate: I suggest “Pioneer African American Bishops, 1957, 1928”. These men were not chosen to be honored here just because they were bishops, but because of their service as bishops in the time when segregation was the norm.

    The “headline writer” is at work again, but in this instance I would leave the first paragraph as written.

    Line 1, second paragraph: add “Wilmington,” after the first “in”. (I have been unable to find the day Demby was born, but this should also be inserted.)

    Line 5, third paragraph: I question the phrase “black hospitals”. If it is retained, the initial “b” should be capitalized. Alternatively, use some such alternative as “segregated hospitals” or “hospitals for Black patients”.

    Line 7, third paragraph: add “until his death in Cleveland on…..” (I saw the date somewhere, but can’t find it now.)

    Line 1, fourth paragraph: add “in” after “episcopate”.

    Line 2, fourth paragraph: add “on February 5, 1858,” after “born”.

    Line 2, fifth paragraph: insert “segregationist” after the second “the”. (The expression “Jim Crow” is not in the vocabulary of some present and of some future generations.)

  10. Edward Thomas Demby & Henry Beard Delany, Bishops, 1957, 1928
    The Emperor has no clothes. Not to disparage the writer in any way, but when I can’t find my way into an ongoing discussion it’s often because I am on an altogether different path. In this case, I ask myself, “what story is being told in this narrative?” Obviously, it summarizes the job titles of the men concerned. Equally, it glides through Jim Crow church structures with the grace of a ballerina executing a grand jeté. We certainly engaged in segregation and political and economic discrimination in every area of life, including education, employment opportunities, access to basic amenities and social services, housing, and fundamental matters of human dignity, to name a few. These need to be acknowledged, to be sure. But, the story that is NOT being told here (i.e., the “clothes” the Emperor is NOT wearing) is the story of the person of these two individuals, their faith, their expectations of God, their hopes for and from the Church, and the matters they treated with passion in life and ministry. Having read this narrative, we know nothing about this. Until there is more of a story about the men, along with the shortcomings of their (our) society, including church, I won’t be able to comment usefully about this narrative.
    Do they belong in our national church calendar? I expect they do, but I am not shown why in this narrative.
    How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? They worked for the church, but aside from job titles we can’t tell what that work was like for them or for those whose lives they (might have) touched.
    How does this person inspire us in Christian life today? If we value the “truth and reconciliation” approach, it can instill a healthy kind of shame, calling forth repentance and a heightened sense of the sin of racism and other forms of bigotry, but we don’t find in this narrative an appreciation of their positive commitment and contributions yet.
    COLLECT: The invocation, “Loving God” is not bad, but it certainly doesn’t recall anything about God that is an overt challenge to, or judgment on, bigotry. “Limited by segregation” misses the mark, as well. WE (THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH) were limited by the homeostasis we had worked out jointly, which supported segregated co-existence in a warped and sinful (codependent) “family system.” Putting it on THEM – as if segregation was their idea – is denial! The “petition” in this prayer is pathetic – “Assist us to break through the limitations of our own time?”* Time is not the problem; nor are “limitations” the problem – there are always limitations, and we can be Christian in ANY time period. (Even if we change the limitations, we will be limited by the “new” limitations of “our time.”) I’m getting too wrapped up in semantics here. What do we want to ask in the petition that is meaningful and is related to our life as Christians? I suggest something on the lines of the last question in the baptismal covenant: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” The first half could serve as the petition with the right wording, and the second half provide the “so that” content.
    READINGS: Of the readings selected, only the epistle seemed to resonate with the possibilities of this commemoration. The OT, Gospel, and Psalm may be better than I realize, but they struck me as vague, generic, and detached from the narrative as it is presented. I can’t suggest replacementswithout a sense of the “person” of the two men being commemorated. Again, it seems to be a function of the Emperor’s haberdashery (A.K.A., “wardrobe malfunction”).
    *The petition, “Assist us to break through the limitations of our own time,” reminds me of a tongue-in-cheek prayer in David Head’s 1959 volume, He Sent Leanness, page 20: “We are quite ready to admit that we have on occasions failed to live up to our highest standards, and we shall try to do a bit better in the New Year.”

  11. The Rev. John LaVoe, you are quite right. Simply reciting the many accomplishments of these Bishops in probably insufficient in itself when it comes to commemorating them. These men, with their dignity, thoughtfulness, and authority, stood for the inclusion of all persons of what ever color in the mission of the Episcopal Church. The inclusion meant more than token representation. Inclusion meant active participation in the missions, liturgy, stewardship, education and decision making. To use a 1960s term, these men stood for the empowerment of all persons to fully participate in the life of the Church. These bishops stood for more than the eradication of racism within the Church. They stood for the eradication of the paternalism within the Church which included(progessively less marginally) those “of color” but excluded them from positions of power and decision making. Yet, even without power, these men exhibited vision and leadership which require another half century or so to come to fruition.

    Both of these men left behind writings and have fairly authoritative biographies written about them. Their visions for the Church are not hidden and so really do need to be incorporated in the biography.

  12. Again, everything I would say has been said (mostly by John LaVoe) but I add this so I can get any additional comments automatically.

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