[Episcopal News Service] The Rev. Absalom Jones, the first Black priest in The Episcopal Church and an early pioneer in the abolitionist movement, was honored on September 17, 2022, in a ceremony giving his name to the street in front of the church he founded.
The church-hosted ceremony was part of an ongoing celebration of the 230th anniversary of the parish, the oldest Black Episcopal church in the United States. In addition to Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez, a host of local leaders attended, including U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, state senators and representatives and members of the City Council.
“He is part of all our history,” Gutiérrez told Episcopal News Service. “We need to find a way to honor him not only in Philadelphia but throughout the church, throughout the country – and, I would say, the world. We are just blessed that this is one of the many [ways to] recognize blessed Absalom.”
The Very Rev. Martini Shaw, rector of St. Thomas, told ENS it was “a glorious weekend,” with the renaming ceremony followed the next day by Homecoming Sunday.
Shaw said he had reached out to City Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. recommending the renaming to encourage wider recognition for someone who “was very important, not only within the church, but within our nation.”
Born a slave in Delaware, Jones taught himself to read, purchased the freedom of his wife, Mary, and later purchased his own freedom. He became a lay minister at a Methodist Episcopal church in Philadelphia, where he helped establish the Free African Society to aid in emancipating slaves and caring for those in need. Refusing to worship in a segregated church building, Jones established St. Thomas. At 56, he became the first Black Episcopal priest. His feast day is celebrated on February 13.
Jones also spearheaded the abolitionist movement in Philadelphia and organized the Black community in performing acts of service. During a devastating outbreak of yellow fever in 1793, as many fled the city, Jones and his volunteers aided the sick and dying at great personal risk. He also organized a regiment of Black soldiers to defend the city during the War of 1812.
“I think it’s important to this church; I think it’s important to the Black community that someone of his stature is recognized,” lifelong St. Thomas member Albert Dandridge told NBC 10 News.
St. Thomas has formed a committee with other parishes, the Diocese of Pennsylvania and local leaders to create a permanent monument to Jones in Philadelphia’s central historic district.
“With the renaming of the street and plans underway [for the monument], it is our hope that residents of Philadelphia, tourists to the city and all students may learn more about Jones and the importance he holds in our nation,” Shaw said.
—Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Reverend Absalom Jones, 1746-1818
Absalom Jones was America’s first black priest. Born into slavery in Delaware at a time when slavery was being debated as immoral and undemocratic, he taught himself to read, using the New Testament as one of his resources. At the age of 16, Jones’ mother, sister, and five brothers were sold, but he was brought to Philadelphia by his master, where he attended a night school for African Americans operated by Quakers. Upon his manumission in 1784, he served as lay minister for the black membership at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church with his friend, Richard Allen, and together they established the Free African Society to aid in the emancipation of slaves and to offer sustenance and spiritual support to widows, orphans, and the poor.
Read more about Absalom Jones.
Church of the Redeemer
Church of the Redeemer: Worshiping God, living in community, and reaching out to the world around us. We are an Episcopal Church serving north King County and south Snohomish County, Washington. As you travel your road, go with friends walking the way of Jesus at Redeemer.
Church of the Redeemer is at 6210 Northeast 181st Street in Kenmore, Washington. The campus is a short distance north of Bothell Way, near the Burke-Gilman Trail. The entrance looks like a gravel driveway. The campus is larger on the inside than it is on the outside. And we managed to hide a large building on the side of a hill that is not easily seen from the street.
The Episcopal Church welcomes you.