Archive for the ‘African Methodist Episcopal Church’ Tag

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


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)



First African-American Priest in The Episcopal Church

His feast transferred from February 13

friend and colleague of


First Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church

His feast transferred from March 26


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

African Methodist Episcopal Evangelist


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.








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)


Feast of Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany (April 14)   2 comments

Episcopal Flag

Above:  The Flag of The Episcopal Church

Image Source = Zscout370



Episcopal Suffragan Bishop for Colored Work, Diocese of Arkansas and the Province of the Southwest


HENRY BEARD DELANY, SR. (MAY 5, 1858-APRIL 14, 1928)

Episcopal Suffragan Bishop for Colored Work, Diocese of North Carolina


In 2016 the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church is Michael Curry, an African American.  The fact that he leads the denomination testifies to the reality of how much The Episcopal Church has changed for the better since the days of Bishops Demby and Delany, in large part due to their efforts.  The fact that the denomination commemorates their lives on April 14 is also positive.

First I will explain the types of bishops germane to this post.  A diocesan bishop leads his or her diocese.  A bishop coadjutor serves under a diocesan prior to succeeding him or her automatically.  A suffragan bishop serves under a diocesan bishop without the right of succession.  A suffragan bishop can, however, become a diocesan bishop via election and confirmation to that post.  An old joke illustrates the difference between a bishop coadjutor and a suffragan bishop.  A suffragan bishop asks his her diocesan bishop,

How are you?,

but a bishop coadjutor asks his or her diocesan bishop,

How are you feeling?

Edward Thomas Demby, V, and Henry Beard Delany, Sr., were pioneers in the struggle for social justice in The Episcopal Church.  In 1918 the Church consecrated them Suffragan Bishops for Colored Work.  They were under the authority of White bishops and subject to an ecclesiastical establishment frequently insensitive to social equality.  Suffragan bishops could not even vote in the House of Bishops until 1946.  Demby and Delany were second-class bishops, but they remained faithful in their labors for Jesus.


Demby, some said after he died, could have eradicated racism by good example alone, if that were possible.  He entered the world at Wilmington, Delaware, on February 13, 1869.  His parents, who had never been slaves, were Edward Thomas Demby, IV, and Mary Anderson Tippett Demby.  Our saint’s education started locally and in his community.  Then he studied at the following schools, in chronological order:

  • The Institute for Colored Youth, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
  • Centenary Bible Institute, Baltimore, Maryland;
  • Wilberforce University, Wilberforce, Ohio; and
  • The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.

Demby, originally a Methodist, left the church John Wesley made for the church that made John Wesley.  Our saint became a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) in 1894, the same year he began to serve as Dean of Students at Paul Quinn College, Dallas, Texas.  In 1895, however, Demby converted to The Episcopal Church.  John F. Spalding, the Bishop of Colorado, became our saint’s mentor and sent him to Tennessee.  There, 1898, Demby joined the ranks of the Sacred Order of Deacons.  He became a priest the following year.  In Tennessee our saint served as the Rector of St. Paul’s Church, Macon, the principal of the parochial school, and the vice principal of Hoffman Hall.  From 1900 to 1907 Demby served churches in Cairo, Illinois; Kansas City, Missouri; and Florida.  In 1902 he married his second wife, Antoinette Ricks, a nurse.  (His first wife, Polly Alston Sherill Demby, had died a few years prior.)  In 1907 Demby became the Rector of Emmanuel Church, Memphis, Tennessee.  In time he came to double as the Secretary of the Southern Colored convocations and as the Archdeacon for Colored Work in the Diocese of Tennessee.  In matters of racial policy he sided with W.E.B. DuBois against Booker T. Washington.

Demby had a difficult time as Suffragan Bishop for Colored Work.  He began that work on September 29, 1918, when he became the first African-American Suffragan Bishop in The Episcopal Church.  Until 1922 Demby had no salary, and the salary he received starting in 1922 was relatively meager.  Neither did our saint have an official residence.  He started with a few small congregations in Arkansas and sought to grow them and to found more churches in Arkansas and the Southwest, but financial restraints and White leadership hobbled those efforts.  Nevertheless, Demby did help to found the Christ Church Parochial and Industrial School, Forrest City, Arkansas, and recruited teachers for it.  He also recruited priests and worked with African-American orphanages, schools, and hospitals.

Matters went from bad to worse for Demby in 1932.  The diocesan convention elected a new bishop, but Demby and White allies detected racism in the procedures.  They protested the election and its result to the national church successfully, so The Episcopal Church overturned the election result.  This angered certain prominent churchmen in Arkansas.  They interfered with Demby’s work, rendering him a bishop in name only.  He turned his attention to national church efforts to resist racism.  This work continued after he retired in 1939.

Demby remained active in retirement.  He served churches in Kansas and in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Cleveland, Ohio.  At the General Convention of 1940 he stood up for the desegregation of The Episcopal Church, helping to defeat a proposal to place African-American congregations in separate missionary districts.  Within 15 years the segregated dioceses integrated.  Demby lived long enough to see that happen and to witness Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the approving statement by the Bishop of Arkansas.

Demby died at Cleveland, Ohio, on April 14, 1957.  He was 88 years old.  His written legacy included devotional and theological books:

  1. Devotions of the Cross and at the Holy Mass;
  2. My Companion;
  3. A Bird’s Eye View of Exegetical Studies;
  4. The Writings of Saints Paul and James;
  5. The Holy Sacrament of the Altar and Penance; and
  6. The Manual of the Guild of One More Soul.


Demby’s co-saint for April 14 is Henry Beard Delany, Sr., the Bishop Suffragan, Diocese of North Carolina (1918-1928).

Delany rose from slavery to the episcopate.  He entered the world at St. Marys, Georgia, on May 5, 1858.  His father was Thomas Sterling Delany (1810-1890), a carpenter, plasterer, and brick layer.  Our saint’s mother was Sarah Elizabeth Delany (1814-1891), a domestic servant.  After the Civil War the family moved to Fernandina Beach, Florida, where Delany worked on the family farm and learned carpentry, plastery, and brick laying from is father.  The Delanys were Methodists, but, in 1881, the local Episcopal priest funded a scholarship for our saint to attend St. Augustine’s College, Raleigh, North Carolina, a school founded by Episcopal priests for freedmen in 1867.

Delany lived on the campus of St. Augustine’s College for the rest of his life.  He graduated in 1885 then joined the faculty, teaching masonry and carpentry as well as supervising building projects.  In 1886 he married Nanny James (1861-1956).  The couple had ten children from 1887 to 1906.  Nanny taught at St. Augustine’s College also; the family lived on campus.  Delany, Vice Principal from 1899 to 1908, became a deacon in 1889 and a priest in 1892.  He served as the campus chaplain and musician, was the architect for the Norman-style chapel, and oversaw the construction of the library (1898) and the hospital (1909).  That was the only hospital to serve area African Americans until 1940.  In 1908 Delany became the Archdeacon for Negro Work in the Diocese of North Carolina.

As Suffragan Bishop for Negro Work Delany served not only in the Diocese of North Carolina but also in the Dioceses of East Carolina, Western North Carolina, South Carolina, and Upper South Carolina.  He did this for ten years until he died at home, in Raleigh, on April 14, 1928.  He was 69 years old.

Bishop Delany also resisted racism in The Episcopal Church and in society.  He died prior to the civil rights movement, but his ten children blazed trails.  For example,  Lemuel Delany (1861-1956) became a surgeon.  Sarah Louise Delany (1889-1999) was an educator.  Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany (1891-1995) became a dentist.  These two sisters were the topics of Having Our Say (1991), an oral history.  Hubert Thomas Delany (1901-1990) became an attorney then a judge.  His clients included Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  The influence of Bishop Delany was evident in his children.


Michael Curry, who served as the Bishop of North Carolina prior to his elevation to Presiding Bishop, spoke of the arrangement of portraits of bishops at the diocesan headquarters to the 194th Annual Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina on January 22, 2010.  He noted that, in the former, suburban Raleigh headquarters, the portraits of the diocesan bishops hung in one wing of the building and the portraits of the suffragan bishops hung in another wing thereof.  The design of the building made integrating those sets of portraits difficult.  In time, however, the diocese moved its headquarters into Raleigh proper.  Curry ordered that, at the new Diocesan House, the portraits of the bishops–diocesan and suffragan–hang together and in chronological order of consecration.  Curry explained the unintentional symbolism of hanging the portraits in separate wings and the intentional symbolism of integrating the sets of portraits:

Now the portraits hang not in any order that recalls Jim Crow, but in the gospel lineage of Simon Peter, Augustine of Canterbury, and Samuel Seabury.

Crazy Christians:  A Call to Follow Jesus (2013), page 122

Bishops Demby and Delany would have approved.









Loving God, we thank you for the ministries of Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany,

bishops of your Church who, though limited by segregation, served faithfully to your honor and glory.

Assist us, we pray, to break trough the limitations of our own time,

that we may minister in obedience to Jesus Christ;

who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,

one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Malachi 2:5-7

Psalm 119:161-168

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

John 4:31-36

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 327