Above: The Cornerstone of St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Image in the Public Domain
JEHU JONES, JR. (SEPTEMBER 4, 1786-SEPTEMBER 28, 1852)
African-American Lutheran Minister
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) commemorate the lives of William Passavant (1821-1894; feast day in The Episcopal Church = January 3), Justus Falckner, and Jehu Jones (1786-1852). pioneering Lutheran ministers in North America, on November 24, the anniversary of the ordination of Falckner in 1703. On my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, however, each man receives his own feast day.
Jehu Jones, Jr., born a slave at Charleston, South Carolina, on September 4, 1786, was a child of slaves. His mother was Abigail Jones and his father was Jehu Jones, Sr. (1769-1833), a tailor. Jehu Sr. purchased his freedom and that of his family in 1798. He joined the ranks of the mulatto elite of Charleston, invested well in real estate, and became the successful proprietor of an inn for White people. In 1807 he purchased his first slave. Our saint, trained as a tailor, took over that part of the family business in 1816, allowing his father to focus on the inn. The family belonged to St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, but Jehu Jr. joined St. John’s Lutheran Church in 1820. Jones, with the encouragement of his pastor, John Bachman (1790-1874), traveled to New York City in 1832 to receive ordination as a minister and a missionary to Liberia.
Bachman, pastor of St. John’s Church for more than half a century, was a major figure in Southern Lutheranism. He was, unfortunately, paternalistic and racist toward African Americans, although he was more progressive in those matters than many of his fellow White people, especially Southerners. He, for example, used science to argue that White people and African Americans belonged to the same species; this was apparently a point of dispute at the time. Nevertheless, Bachman defended race-based chattel slavery and argued that African Americans were intellectually inferior to White people. Bachman’s greatest legacy was in the field of liturgical renewal. In 1870 he prompted the development of the Common Service (1888).
Jones, who abhorred slavery, never got to Liberia. His ordination occurred on October 24, 1832. The difficulties began when he returned to South Carolina in 1833. In the wake of Nat Turner’s rebellion (1831) the state made already-strict racial laws stricter. One of these statutes outlawed the return of free African Americans to South Carolina. Authorities arrested our saint, who spent several months in jail. In 1833 Jehu Sr. died. The inn passed to a daughter-in-law (a sister-in-law of our saint). Jehu Jr., freed from jail, received his inheritance and left the state forever. He went to New York City, where he attempted unsuccessfully to raise funds for the mission to Liberia.
Jones became a domestic missionary instead. In 1833 he settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and ministered to African Americans. The following year our saint founded St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, which consisted originally of about 20 poor people. The congregation was therefore financially dependent upon others, who pledged to pay, among other things, the mortgage for the building, dedicated in 1836. Unfortunately, some of those who promised to back the church financially failed to keep their pledges, so the bank foreclosed in 1839. False allegations of financial mismanagement followed Jones, who defended himself in writing, for the rest of his life.
Jones, who was active in politics, advocated for civil rights and improved living conditions for African Americans. He also founded congregations in Gettysburg and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.
Our saint’s life after 1839 was full of challenges. He spent 1839-1842 in Toronto, Upper Canada. In 1842 Jones returned to the United States, where he worked as a missionary and a cobbler. The combination of racism and unfounded charges of financial mismanagement relative to the foreclosure of 1839 foiled his attempt to found a church in New York City in 1849. Jones continued to minister to the small and impoverished congregation of St. Paul’s, Philadelphia, for years. He died, aged 66 years, at Centreville, New Jersey, on September 28, 1852.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
AUGUST 6, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION
Heavenly Father, shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant Jehu Jones,
who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock.
We pray that, following their examples and the teaching of their holy lives,
we may by your grace attain our full maturity in Christ,
through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35
1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3:14-21
John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47
–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60