Feast of Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and Jarena Lee (February 12)   Leave a comment

st-georges-church

Above:  St. George’s Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Image Scanned from Matthew Simpson, Editor, Cyclopedia of Methodism; Embracing Sketches of Its Rise, Progress, and Present Condition, with Biographical Notices and Numerous Illustrations–Fifth Revised Edition (1882)

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ABSALOM JONES (NOVEMBER 6, 1746-FEBRUARY 13, 1818)

First African-American Priest in The Episcopal Church

His feast transferred from February 13

friend and colleague of

RICHARD ALLEN (FEBRUARY 14, 1760-MARCH 26, 1831)

First Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

His feast transferred from March 26

licensed

JARENA LEE (FEBRUARY 11, 1783-1855 OR 1857)

African Methodist Episcopal Evangelist

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In The Episcopal Church February 13 and March 26 are the Feasts of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, respectively.

Among my goals during this renovation of my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, however long the process will take, is to emphasize relationships and influences.  Thus, with this post, which replaces two older posts, I emphasize the joint efforts of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen as I add a third saint, Jarena Lee.  I also locate the composite feast on February 12.  The Ecumenical Calendar, in its current state of ongoing renovation, has just one feast (that of Sts. Aquila, Priscilla, and Apollos), imported from the calendar of saints of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, on February 13.  With few exceptions, I prefer to reserve a date with a feast of a Biblical character or characters for that person or those individuals.

absalom-jones

Above:  Portrait of Absalom Jones, by Charles Wilson Peale

Image in the Public Domain

Absalom Jones, born on November 6, 1746, was a native of Sussex County, Delaware.  He, born a slave, taught himself to read via a variety of books, including the New Testament.  His first master sold the 16-year-old Jones to a store owner in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  In the City of Brotherly Love our saint attended a Quaker-run night school for African Americans.  In 1770 Jones, aged 23 years, married Mary, a slave.  He purchased her freedom in 1778 and his own six years later.

richard-allen

Above:  Richard Allen

Image in the Public Domain

Richard Allen, born Negro Richard, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 14, 1760, came from a family of slaves also.  When our saint was a child the family’s master, Benjamin Chew (attorney and Chief Justice of the Commonwealth, 1774-1777), sold them to Stokely Sturgis, a planter from Delaware.  Sturgis was a relatively humane slave owner, but he did break up the family when, to settle debts, he sold the mother and three of the siblings.  Richard converted to Christianity and joined the Methodist society at the age of 17 years.  He evangelized his friends and neighbors, with the approval of Sturgis, who thought that religion made a slave better, not worse.  Meanwhile, Sturgis, who became convinced that slavery was immoral, facilitated the process by which his slaves purchased their freedom.  Richard bought his freedom in 1780 and assumed the surname “Allen.”  For six years he was a traveling evangelist in South Carolina, New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, supporting himself via trades; he was a woodcutter, a bricklayer, a cobbler, and a salt-wagon driver.  Allen was present at the Christmas Conference (at which the Methodist Episcopal Church formed, thereby separating from The Church of England), Lovely Lane Chapel, Baltimore, Maryland, in 1784.  He also became a licensed preacher in the new denomination that year.

Jones and Allen were lay ministers for African Americans at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal (now United Methodist) Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  They were so successful at increasing the African-American contingent of the congregation that they bothered the white leaders of the parish, who attempted (without notice) to segregate the African Americans into an upstairs gallery.  When, during a Sunday service in November 1786, ushers tried to remove the African-American members from where they were sitting, those parishioners walked out of the building together.

aecst-1829

Above:  The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1829

Image in the Public Domain

In 1787 Jones and Allen helped to found the Free African Society, for mutual aid.  The Society founded The African Church, Philadelphia, in 1792.  The congregation applied for admission to the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania and accomplished that goal in late 1794.  The African Church became African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, with Jones as its lay reader (1794), deacon (1795), and priest (1804).  Jones became the first African-American priest in The Episcopal Church.  Allen led faction of the The African Church that preferred Methodism.  He founded and led the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, in 1794.  Eventually this congregation became Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

bethel_ame_church_

Above:  (Mother) Bethel African Methodist Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1829

Image in the Public Domain

Jones and Allen worked together over the decades.  In 1793, for example, they mobilized the African-American community of the city to serve during an epidemic of yellow fever.  They also wrote and published a refutation of false allegations that African Americans had looted and engaged in profiteering during the outbreak.  Jones and Allen also helped to found the African Masonic Lodge in Philadelphia in 1798, petitioned the state legislature to abolish slavery the following year, petitioned the U.S. Congress to do the same in 1800, founded the Society for the Suppression of Vice and Immorality in 1809, and condemned the new American Colonization Society in 1817.

Jones and Allen made ecclesiastical history.  Jones became the first African American ordained by a hierarchical denomination.  The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas became the second largest congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania by 1815, operated a school, and had one of the nation’s oldest African-American women’s groups and one of the U.S.A.’s oldest African-American men’s groups.  Bishop Francis Asbury ordained Allen, making him the first African-American deacon in the Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1799.  Allen’s first wife, Flora, to whom he was wed from 1790 until her death in 1801, had helped to found The African Church and Mother Bethel Church.  His second wife, Sarah Bass Allen, a former slave, became the Founding Mother of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816, the same year her husband became the first bishop of the new denomination.

Husband and wife were also conductors of the Underground Railroad.

Jones died at Philadelphia on February 13, 1818.

jarena-lee

Above:  Jarena Lee

Image in the Public Domain

Jarena Lee (original surname unknown) also made ecclesiastical history.  She, a native of Cape May, New Jersey, entered the world on February 11, 1783.  She was never a slave.  Her family, however, was impoverished.  Jarena became a live-in domestic servant living in the home of the Sharps, a white family, at the age of seven years.  As a teenager Jarena relocated to Philadelphia and continued to work as a domestic servant.  She attended Allen’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, heard him preach, and converted to Christianity.  In 1807 Jarena perceived her vocation to preach.  Allen initially refused to permit her to preach, for reasons of gender.  Four years later she married the Reverend Joseph Lee.  The couple, married for seven years (ending in Joseph’s death), had two children.  The widow renewed her determination to pursue gender equality in ministry.  One Sunday in 1819, at Mother Bethel Church, a visiting minister could not complete his sermon; Jarena completed it for him.  Allen was impressed, not angry, so he changed his mind and licensed her to preach.  Jarena, active in the abolitionist movement, eventually became a traveling evangelist.  She died in 1855 or 1857.

Allen died at Philadelphia on March 26, 1831.

These three saints, inspired by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaimed that Gospel and struggled for social justice.  They were simultaneously of their time and ahead of it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 2, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHANNING MOORE WILLIAMS, EPISCOPAL MISSIONARY BISHOP IN CHINA AND JAPAN

THE FEAST OF ALICE FREEMAN PALMER, U.S. EDUCATOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRIOC, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT TUDWAL, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT OSMUND OF SALISBURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear;

that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servants Absalom Jones, Richard Allen, and Jarena Lee,

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, now and for ever.  Amen.

Genesis 8:12-17, 20-22

Psalm 51:1-17

Hebrews 4:12-16

Luke 23:32-43

–Adapted from A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016)

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