Saints of Color Who Inspire Our Ministries: Rev. Absalom Jones
(Raphaelle Peale, Absalom Jones, 1774–1825)
Feb. 8, 2022
We continue our celebration of Black History Month with this week's reflection on Blessed Absalom Jones, Priest & Reformer, by the Rev. Carol Duncan.
Absalom Jones was born in 1746, before the Revolutionary War. He was born on a big estate near Baltimore, a farm where the workers were enslaved. Enslaved means people who owned nothing, not even their own bodies. As a very small child not yet 6, he was sent to work in the farm fields. He was a sweet little boy. The owner of the farm saw him and brought him to work in the owner’s home.
At the house, visitors thought he was so sweet and polite that they gave him coins for himself. Absalom discovered he was very fond of learning. He saved those coins and was able to purchase a primer, a beginning reading book. He begged anybody who could read to teach him how. His next book was a New Testament. He said reading saved him money and trouble because his only amusement was reading.
When Absalom was 16, his owner sold his farm along with Absalom’s mother, his five brothers and a sister, but kept Absalom. His owner took Absalom and moved to Philadelphia where he purchased a big store. Absalom worked at that store the rest of his life. He kept asking people to teach him so he learned to write and was able to write letters to his family.
Absalom was such a hard worker, he worked for himself after his store shift was done. He made enough money to get married and purchase his own home. He bought freedom for his wife and then himself. He chose a new last name for himself instead of having his owners name. He called himself Jones because that was the most American sounding name he could think of.
Absalom was a faithful Christian. He wanted other enslaved persons in Philadelphia to help themselves as he had been able to do. He thought church was the way to help. He and a friend used the church to help other people. One thing they did was nurse people who got sick from Yellow Fever. That was a pandemic worse than Covid. He brought them food, water and medicine, and took them to the graveyard when they died. He convinced many African Americans to help. White people left town rather than help. Absalom was a heroic first responder.
Eventually the church recognized that Absalom should be a priest because he was such a great leader. He became the first African American priest in our country. He led the first African American Episcopal Church in our country, the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, which is still a big thriving church today.
Absalom’s story inspires me to work for improved lives for neighbors in this big city. Overcoming hardship is God’s work.
Collect for the Feast of Absalom Jones: