Black History Month 2014: The first Black people to… establish an African Episcopal church

African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas

African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas

Absalom Jones

Absalom Jones

Every year for Black History Month I explore the obvious and not so obvious parts of American history that those called Black have taken part in. The things that we (Black people) have done other than be stolen from our homeland and made forced labor in a land foreign to us. I’m going to start this series by looking up the first time someone African-American did something and broke the color barrier in that activity or field. I’ll be starting with Wikipedia and working my way out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African-American_firsts

I will be learning a lot of this as I go since I am a product of the standardized Euro/Anglo/Caucasian leaning public school system. I hope you enjoy learning with me. I’ll be going down the list chronologically as it appears in the Wikipedia article.

For my ninth entry this month I have a 2-for-1:

1794:  First African Episcopal Church established: Absalom Jones founded African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

1804:  First African American ordained as an Episcopal priest in the U.S.: Absalom Jones in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas was founded in 1792 in PhiladelphiaPennsylvania, as the first black Episcopal Church in the United States. It developed from the Free African Society, a non-denominational group formed by blacks who left St. George’s Methodist Church because of discrimination. Led by Absalom Jones, a free black and lay Methodist preacher who became ordained in 1804 as a priest in the Episcopal Church, the Church became one of the major features in Philadelphia’s black cultural life.

Absalom Jones (1746 – February 13, 1818) was an African-American abolitionist and clergyman. After finding a black congregation in 1794, he was the first African American ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church of the United States, in 1804. He is listed on the Episcopal calendar of saintsand blessed under the date of his death, February 13, in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer as “Absalom Jones, Priest, 1818”.

The Church became the first black church in the country to purchase a pipe organ, and then the first to hire a black woman as organist, Ann Appo.

While the congregation has worshipped in several different buildings, it has remained continuously active since its founding. The original building, dedicated on July 17, 1794 at Fifth and Adelphi Streets, is under the passageway/plaza now known as St. James Place. The congregation is now located at the intersection of Overbrook and Lancaster Avenues in Philadelphia’s Overbrook Farms neighborhood. Other locations included Twelfth Street below Walnut Street, 57th and Pearl Streets, and 52nd and Parrish Streets. Clergy and parishioners were active in abolitionism and the Underground Railroad in the 19th century, and in the modern Civil Rights Movement.

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