Feast of James W. C. Pennington (October 20)   1 comment

Above:  James William Charles Pennington

Image in the Public Domain

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JAMES WILLIAM CHARLES PENNINGTON (1807-OCTOBER 20, 1870)

African-American Congregationalist and Presbyterian Minister, Educator, and Abolitionist

Born James Pembroke

James W. C. Pennington comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via G. Scott Cady and Christopher L. Webber, A Year with American Saints (New York:  Church Publishing, 2006), the most recent addition to my library.

James Pembroke was a slave in Maryland.  Initially his father (Brazil Pembroke) and mother belonged to different masters.  Then the family became the property of just one of the two masters, until another slave owner purchased our saint’s brother.  Young James, trained as a stone mason then as a blacksmith, received many beatings as he grew up.  At the age of 20 years our saint escaped to freedom in Pennsylvania.

Quakers–namely William Wright–helped our saint for six months in Pennsylvania.  Wright took the fugitive slave into his home.  Quakers educated our saint, influenced him to convert to Christianity, and helped him to move farther north, first to the Brooklyn-Long Island area, via the Underground Railroad.

Our saint, who assumed the name “James William Charles Pennington,” taught school on Long Island before moving to New Haven, Connecticut.   He worked toward becoming a minister while auditing courses at Yale College, which, due to a racist admission policy, never admitted him as a student.  Pennington, ordained a minister, accepted a call in 1838; he became the pastor of a Congregational church in New Town, on Long Island.  That year he also presided at the wedding ceremony of Frederick Douglass and Anna Murray.

From 1840 to 1848 Pennington served as the pastor of the Talcott Street Congregational Church, Hartford, Connecticut.  It was a congregation of African Americans, most of whom were active in the community.  Our saint opened a parochial school, for local public schools did not admit African Americans.  Pennington, active in efforts to help the slaves aboard the Amistad, also worked against racism domestically.  He advocated for opportunities for African Americans to improve their economic opportunities.  Our saint also spoke out for the right of African-American men to vote in Connecticut.  Furthermore, he condemned racism within the abolitionist movement, to which he belonged.  That criticism changed the minds of some white people for, starting, in the 1840s, Pennington received and accepted invitations to preach in white churches.  Our saint also wrote the Textbook of the Origin and History, Etc., Etc. of the Colored People (1841), which countered racist claims and justifications for chattel slavery.  The friend of William Lloyd Garrison served as the President of the Connecticut Anti-Slavery Convention (1840f) and as a delegate to the global anti-slavery convention in 1843.  Our saint, who wrote for abolitionist newspapers and edited and published two such newspapers, also advocated for moral character and conduct, especially as part of the temperance movement.

Penningon continued to serve God and work for social improvement during his final years.  He, pastor of the First Colored Presbyterian Church, New York, New York (1848-1856), returned to Hartford (1856-1857) before spending years as a traveling minister.  The Civil War compelled him to abandon his pacifism and recruit African-American soldiers for the United States Army.  After the Civil War our saint ministered among former slaves in the Presbytery of Florida.  He, aged about 63 years, died in Jacksonville, Florida, on October 20, 1870.

Pennington spent most of his life serving God, challenging social injustice, and attempting (with some success) to change the minds of racists.  The main obstacle with which he had to contend was the truth of the punchline from an anachronistic joke about the number of psychiatrists necessary to change a light bulb:  only one person is necessary, but the light bulb must want to change.  Those who did not desire to abandon their racism remained entrenched in it.  Pennington, however, presented the counter-argument effectively.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 13, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, “THE GREAT MORALIST”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FURCHTEGOTT GELLERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELLA J. BAKER, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL SPERATUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servant James William Charles Pennington,

to work for justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-26

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60

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One response to “Feast of James W. C. Pennington (October 20)

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  1. Pingback: Feast of Arthur Tappan, Lewis Tappan, Samuel Eli Cornish, and Theodore S. Wright (November 5) | SUNDRY THOUGHTS

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