Absalom Jones Celebration

The Wilma Ruth Combs Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians and The Diocese of Ohio announce the 2016 Absalom Jones Celebration. The event will be held on Sunday, February 14 at 4:00 p.m. at Christ Church, 3445 Warrensville Center Rd, Shaker Heights, OH 44122. Reception to follow. This is a diocesan-wide event and all are welcome to attend. The Very Reverend Will H. Mebane, Jr., Interim Dean at St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo, NY will be the preacher. The Right Reverend Arthur B. Williams, Jr., Assisting Bishop of Ohio, will be the Celebrant. This year there will be an Absalom Jones volunteer choir. Participants should plan to attend rehearsal at 2:45 p.m. on February 14. If you are interested in joining the volunteer choir, please contact Sallye Miyara at salmilmiy@buckeye-express.com or 1.419.878.0945 by February 4.

The Celebration commemorates the life and witness of Absalom Jones, an African-American who gained his freedom in the post-Revolutionary War era. Jones contributed greatly to one of the first large free black communities in the United States. Born a house slave in Sussex County, Delaware, Jones grew up on the estate of the merchan-planter Benjamin Wynkoop. He was brought to Philadelphia in 1762. There he learned to read at a Quaker night school for blacks while working in the store as a clerk and handyman. At twenty, he married another slave and purchased freedom for her and himself in 1784. He soon became one of the major leaders of the emerging free black community in Philadelphia - the largest urban gathering of emancipated slaves in the post-Revolutionary period.

He served as lay minister for the black membership of St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church. Some white members felt that the black members should be confined to sitting in the balcony. On a Sunday in November 1787, Absalom Jones, his friend Richard Allen, and others knelt for opening prayers in pews on the main floor of St. George's. Without warning, ushers collared Jones, pulling him to his feet in an attempt to remove him and the others. The black members indignantly walked out in a body.

In 1787, the Free American Sociery of Philadelphia was organized; Jones and Allen were elected leaders. This was the first independent black mutual aid society in the United States. It became an inspiration for creating independent black churches as centers of religious, social and political activity in many northern cities in the late years of the 18th century.

On January 1, 1791, the Free African Society held religious services for the first time and the congregation that emerged began to raise funds to build its own church. In 1792, under the leadership of Jones and Allen, The African Church of Philadelphia was organized as a direct outgrowth of the Free African Society. Its building was dedicated on July 17, 1794. Both Jones and Allen wished to affiliate with the Methodist Church but the majority of the congregation voted to join the Episcopal Church. Richard Allen withdrew with the remnant to join the Methodists and later founded Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The African Church applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. In October 1794, it was admitted as St. Thomas African Episcopal Church with the stipulation that its members not participate in Diocesan Conventions. The issue was not resolved until 1864. Bishop White ordained Absalom Jones as deacon in 1795 and as priest on September 21, 1802, making him the first priest in America of African descent.

Like many black clergymen, Jones also ministered in the wider community. As a teacher in schools established by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and St. Thomas', he helped train a generation of local black youth. As grand master of Philadephia's Black Masons, which founded in 1809 the Society for the Suppression of Vice and Immorality and the literary Augustine Society in 1817, he worked to enhance the self-respect and skills of free blacks. He also began an insurance company.

Jones coauthored with Allen, A Narrative of the Proceedings of the Black People, During the Late Awful Calamity in Philadelphia - a defense of contributions of black people in the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 and an attack on slavery. In 1797 Jones helped organize the first petition of African-Americans against slavery, the slave trade, and the federal Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. Three years later, he organized another petition sent to President Thomas Jefferson and the Congress deploring slavery and the slave trade. From his pulpit, he preached against slavery and was responsible for informally establishing January 1 - a date in 1808 on which importing of slaves into the United States was declared illegal - as a day of thanksgiving and celebration for black Americans.

Absalom Jones died on February 13, 1818 after 22 years in ordained ministry. During those years he was never permitted to attend a Diocesan Convention. The 64th General Convention of the Episcopal Church meeting in 1973 added his name to the Church calendar of saints.