Absalom Jones was the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church. His saint's day, which falls within Black History Month, is often a cause for particular celebration in our church. Our diocesan celebration of Absalom Jones Day is this Sunday at 3 p.m., at Christ Church-Detroit.
Jones was born into slavery in Delaware in 1746, and was later sold to a store owner in Philadelphia. While still a slave, he married Mary King, and saved to purchase her freedom first, so that their children could be born free. Jones did not purchase his own freedom until he was 38.
Along with Richard Allen, Jones led a movement of African-Americans out of the Methodist church where they had been worshipping. Tired of being relegated to upper galleries and treated like second-class members, Jones and Allen took their compatriots out of the white church and established churches for their own people.
The church Absalom Jones established, St. Thomas's African Church in Philadelphia, petitioned to become an Episcopal parish. Jones was ordained a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1804. For his entire life, Jones worked and spoke and prayed for an end to slavery, and for more decent treatment of slaves and freed Africans.
(Richard Allen established his church within the Methodist tradition, founding the African Methodist Episcopal -- AME -- denomination.)