Rev. Absalom Jones: First Black Priest of the Episcopal Church, Founder of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas & Leader of Justice

Today’s faithful activists stand on the shoulders of the generations before them. One of the pioneers in the movement to end slavery and advance the rights of African Americans was The Most Blessed Rev. Absalom Jones. As you learn of Absalom’s journey, you will experience all that Rev. Jones accomplished in the early battle for civil rights and equality for all.

Picture2-1The Rev. Absalom Jones was born on November 6, 1746, as a slave in Sussex County, Delaware. As a young man, Absalom expressed a desire to read and write. However, he was given access to develop basic skills. Eventually, the rest of his family was sold (not an uncommon practice during the day of slavery). However, Absalom’s master, Benjamin Wynkoop, brought him to Philadelphia, where Absalom served as a clerk and handyman in a retail store. Absalom continued to pursue education, primarily on an independent basis, though he spent some time in a Quaker school. In 1770, Absalom married Mary Thomas and purchased her freedom. It would be another 14 years before Absalom received his own freedom!

Eventually, Absalom met Richard Allen and, together, they formed the Free African Society. The Society focused on serving widows, orphans, those who were infirmed, and also assisted with burial expenses. Concurrently, Absalom and Richard also served a lay preachers at St. George’s Episcopal Methodist Church (234 N. 4th St., Philadelphia, PA). Eventually, their popularity prompted racial discord, and both Absalom and Richard left with a portion of the congregation to form two different churches. Absalom founded The African Church, which eventually became the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas (originally at 5th and Adelphia and, now, located at 6361 Lancaster Ave., Philadelphia, PA), and Richard Allen established the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

During the yellow fever epidemic of 1797, the Rev. Absalom Jones and Richard Allen rallied the black community to assist the sick. In both 1797 and 1799, Absalom Jones and other free Africans submitted petitions to Congress, opposing slavery.

Absalom Jones was ordained by Bishop William White in 1802, as the first African American Episcopal priest.

A few years before the blessed Absalom Jones died, he was installed as First Worshipful Master in the First African grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and, in 1815, he was elected the First Grand Master.

In addition to local ways to pay homage to The Most Blessed Rev. Absalom Jones, especially at The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, one can travel to Atlanta and visit the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing. Their website is: On Saturday, February 17, 10am-2pm, the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania will offer a service of celebration for Absalom Jones at the Episcopal Academy Chapel in Newtown Square, PA.

Picture1On November 10, 1996, the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas dedicated the Absalom Jones Chapel with a Festal Eucharist, and enshrined his ashes in the altar inside the church sanctuary. In addition, the Absalom Jones Memorial Stained Glass Window, designed by Robert c. Moore (who also painted a number of murals which hang in the church’s fellowship hall), was installed and dedicated in July 1997. Finally, a stained glass window featuring Black Saints, and Black Bishops past and present was also installed in 2000.

In the Episcopal Church, February 13 is the annual feast day of the sainted and Most Blessed Rev. Absalom Jones. The collect for that day is as follows:

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 forever. Amen.

In closing, below is a prayer written by the most blessed Absalom Jones:

“Give peace in our day we beseech thee, O thou God of peace! And grant, that this highly favoured country may continue to afford a safe and peaceful retreat from the calamities of war and slavery, for ages to come.”