It was fitting that I received a copy of Absalom Jones: America’s First Black Priestwritten by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones in early February, Black History Month. Exactly two years ago I wrote about Absalom Jones, sharing resources for learning about this man of faith, courage, and commitment. So it is fitting that I share a new resource for children (ages 8-12) close to his Feast Day – February 13 – that explores the history of this man and the context in which he lived and came from. The people of God are all people – all colors, all races, all languages – from all over the world.
One is immediately caught by the visually stunning cover of this book that shows what Absalom might have looked like today, surrounded by other people of faith who were instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, including the first Black woman to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, Barbara C. Harris, who died in March 2020. Illustrator, Christopher Michael Taylor describes his image on the cover as “a modernized and unique interpretation,” while each black and white artwork that begins each of the eight 3-page chapters can be described as “comic book realism.” They pop next to the text, engaging the reader in wanting to read on to see how a man, born a slave in 1746, earned his freedom and was ordained a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1802.
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:
Since the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, his birthday on January 15 has been honored with speeches, sharing Dr. King’s values of the American Dream, equal opportunity, and that one day white and black children might be judged by “the content of their character . . . [and not] by the color of their skin.” How do we do justice to Dr. King’s commitment to social justice that involves (as it do for him) personal faith, the New Testament’s gospel of unconditional love, and the Old Testament prophetic insistence on righteous justice? “It is not enough for us to talk about love,” he told his followers. “There is another side called justice . . . . Standing beside love is always justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion––we’ve got to use the tools of coercion.”
Many of the formative experiences in life happen when several generations are together. Think about it – when were you fully engaged in learning about Jesus or living out your Baptismal Covenant? Surely it wasn’t when you were alone. Perhaps it was in serving others or immersed in a worship service. Most likely there was more than one generation present. In our society we tend to separate people by age mainly for education and employment. In the recent past, Christian formation programs have made the same separation of generations, but more and more formation educators are offering programs in which adults and children learn together. It is a way to pass on faith – generation to generation. Old learn from young, and young learn from old.
While Sunday mornings may still sadly be the most segregated time in our country (at least for mainline church-goers), it is the most generationally diverse time many of us experience all week. Our worship involved young and old, and every age in-between at worship.
All this week I have been bookmarking articles and resources that have appeared on my news feeds and social media. I wanted to share a curated list of materials that Christian educators and families can use as we attempt to move forward in constructive ways following the neo-nazi and white supremacist violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday, August 11, 2017.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry released a video message this afternoon to respond to the continuing rhetoric, violence, and outrage that continues to fester. He asks, “Where do we go from here?” Do we feed chaos or do we build community? He acknowledges the work that is ahead of us, but reminds us that we do have a way – and The Way is to follow Jesus. That is the work that remains ahead of us.
So, I am called to return to my liturgical tradition to see what resources might inform our current times, knowing that there is more to be done than reading a book or teaching a Sunday School lesson. Continue reading The Work Ahead→