The Dean’s Corner: Absalom Jones

The Dean’s Corner: Absalom Jones

The Very Rev. BJ OwensBorn into slavery in Delaware in 1746, Absalom Jones was an abolitionist and evangelist who would found the first black Episcopal congregation, St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. Bishop William White ordained Jones as a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1802 in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. The Diocese of Ohio, along with the Wilma Ruth Combs Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians, will host its annual Absalom Jones liturgy this year at Trinity Cathedral at 4:00 p.m. this Sunday, February 16.

As I reflect on the importance of this feast day to the Episcopal Church and to Trinity Cathedral, I am struck by the moment in history in which Absalom Jones found himself. He lived at a time when our nation was being formed, shaped by beautiful ideals yet also by our greatest sins of separation and inequality. This was the same time that the Episcopal Church was being formed as a new expression of Anglican Christianity. Indeed, the bishop who ordained Jones was the first Bishop of Pennsylvania and the first Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

In celebrating Absalom Jones, we not only recommit ourselves to the work of racial reciliation and healing today; we also reflect upon a history that places this work at the very beginning of our church’s life. When the people of our diocese come to Trinity on Sunday to celebrate the life of Blessed Absalom and the reconciling love of Jesus, we will share in the joyful, painful, transformative and hopeful work of reconciliation. We will lift up a saint of the church whose witness honors the leadership of all marginalized people who call this church their home, and whose life provides a lively example of evangelism and spirit-led change.

When we gather on Sunday, we will also honor and celebrate the richness of the African-American tradition within the Episcopal Church, a tradition that goes back to the beginning of our denominational church. As we continue to grow in diversity and integrity, these visions of history and healing are vital to our understanding of who we are as children of God.

The Very Rev. Bernard J. Owens