Absalom Jones of Philadelphia

Absalom Jones (1746-1818) by Raphaelle Peale (Wikipedia Commons)

The life and legacy of Absalom Jones is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, his faith, and his commitment to the causes of freedom, justice, and self-determination. Born a slave, he became one of the founders of the black Episcopal church in America, becoming the first African American Episcopal priest. He was a leading figure among Philadelphia’s African American community (born a slave in 1746 in Delaware, he was manumitted – released from slavery – in 1784) who advocated the abolition of slavery from the pulpit. You can read more about him at the Episcopal Church Archives site. His feast day (day of death) is February 13.

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.

(Collect for Absalom Jones, February 13 in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006, p. 160)

There are many sermons and documents, plus an official portrait of Absalom Jones. Choose more or more of the following to delve deeper into the life of this important American and priest:

  • Watch a documentary: The Public Broadcasting Society (PBS & THIRTEEN) produced a four-part series entitled Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery, which is now available on YouTube. “Part 3: 1791-1831” focuses largely on Absalom Jones and the abolition of slavery, especially in Philadelphia – known as “the City of Brotherly Love.” An online teacher’s guide is available, as well as a resource bank of images, documents, stories, biographies, and commentaries.
  • Portrait of Absalom Jones: The Delaware Art Museum holds a formal portrait painted by Raphaelle Peale of Absalom Jones which is easily found online and in numerous books. In it, Jones is portrayed in ecclesiastical robes and holding a Bible. For a Black to be depicted in a portrait that honors his status in life was a rarity at the time.
  • Sermons and Writings: “A Discourse … African Church,” written in response to white clergymen speaking to the new congregation of St. Thomas to be subservient; from the Annals of the First African Church in the United States of America by the Rev. William Douglass, Philadelphia, 1862. “A Thanksgiving Sermon” preached January 1, 1808 in St. Thomas’ is based on Exodus 3:7-8 (God’s recognition of the Hebrew slaves’ bondage in Egypt).

Weaving God’s Promises is a curriculum for children and middle school youth that offers lessons on many saints. One of them, Men Who Struggled for Justice: Absalom Jones, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Jonathan Myrick Daniels, is offered as a free download. It is important that we continue to lift up contemporary saints with our children and youth.

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappears, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer, p. 823.

Ideas for this article are from Faithful Celebrations: Making Time for God with the Saints edited by Sharon Ely Pearson (Church Publishing, 2019). More activities to celebration Absalom Jones intergenerationally can be found in this book as well as other saints: Patrick of Ireland, Julian of Norwich, Joan of Arc, Enmegahbowh of White Earth, and Nicholas of Myra. You may also be interested in previous posts on this site associated with Absalom Jones: The Work Ahead and The Call to Justice.

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