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Feast of Anna Ellison Butler Alexander (September 24)   Leave a comment

Above:  Deaconess Anna Ellison Butler Alexander

Image in the Public Domain

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ANNA ELLISON BUTLER ALEXANDER (1865?-SEPTEMBER 24, 1947)

African-American Episcopal Deaconess in Georgia, and Educator

Deaconess Anna Ellison Butler Alexander comes to this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via The Episcopal Church.

The history of this feast exemplifies how many commemorations rise to the denominational level in The Episcopal Church.

The feast rose from the diocesan level.  In 1998 Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., the Bishop of Georgia, declared Deaconess Anna Alexander a saint of Georgia, with the feast day of September 24.  The feast rose to the national level at the General Convention of 2015, which added the commemoration to A Great Cloud of Witnesses (2016), the expanded version of the official calendar of saints contained in Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006 (2007).  The General Convention of 2018 approved the greatly expanded official calendar of saints, Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018 (as of the writing of this post, available as a PDF, pending the final, published version next year), with the deaconess included.

As with many other Southern African-Americans of the time, the date–the year, even–of Anna’s birth remained uncertain, due to the lack of written records.  Records of the Diocese of Georgia listed her year of birth as 1878.  In 1947 her death certificate listed 1881 as her year of birth.  Anna’s birth actually occurred shortly after the end of the Civil War.  Most recent sources have given 1865 as her year of birth.

Above:  Coastal Georgia, 1951

Scanned from Hammond’s Complete World Atlas (1951)

Our saint was the youngest of eleven children of former slaves James and Daphne Alexander (married in 1841), of the Pierce Butler Plantation on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia.  Daphne was a child of plantation rape; her biological father was Roswell King, Jr.  James, or “Aleck,” was a skilled carpenter and builder, as well as Butler’s personal assistant.  The Alexanders instilled the value of education into their children, and modeled it.  James, for example, taught himself to read and write.  The couple, when slaves, violated the law against educating slaves; they taught their children.

Above:  Glynn and McIntosh Counties, Georgia, 1951

Scanned from Hammond’s Complete World Atlas (1951)

Anna, raised in The Episcopal Church, found the public education available to her in Glynn County, Georgia, substandard.  (The inadequate education of African Americans in the Postbellum South was often a matter of policy.)  It was fortunate, then, that the Alexanders provided informal education for their children.  Our saint, seeking to help others less fortunate than herself, became a teacher at the parochial school (attached to St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church, Darien, Georgia) her sister, Mary Alexander Mann, had founded.  (Mary’s husband, Ferdinand M. Mann, was the Vicar of St. Cyprian’s Church from 1892 to 1914.)  Many also taught at the parochial school, as did another sister, Dora.  The school was, for a time, a vital to the education of African Americans in Darien.

Anna’s base of operations for most of her life was the poor, rural community of Pennick, in Glynn County.  In 1894 she prompted the founding of a mission, Church of the Good Shepherd.  She spent 1894-1897 studying at St. Paul’s Normal School (later College), Lawrenceville, Virginia.  Episcopal priest James Solomon Russell (1857-1935) had founded the school in 1888.  (St. Paul’s College closed in 2013).  Our saint, back in Pennick, rebuilt the congregation and, in 1901, founded the parochial school, which grew from one room to two rooms, with an apartment for the deaconess.

The Diocese of Georgia, founded in 1823, divided in 1907; the Diocese of Atlanta formed to the northwest of the rump Diocese of Georgia.  Bishop Cleland Kinloch Nelson, based in Atlanta when he was the Bishop of Georgia (1892-1907), remained in the capital city and became the first Bishop of Atlanta (1907-1917).  Nelson was a relatively liberal white Georgian of the time.  He disapproved of Jim Crow, but knew he could not change the system alone, so he at least tried to keep his diocese integrated.  Nelson also encouraged African-American missions.  The bishop was not all-powerful, however; he could not override the collective will of the majority of lay people.  So, in 1907, after the as the Diocese of Atlanta was forming, the Diocese of Georgia was segregating.  Nevertheless, one of Nelson’s final acts as the Bishop of Georgia was to consecrate Anna Alexander as a deaconess–the only African-American deaconess in the denomination.  He did this on Friday, May 13, 1907, at the second annual meeting of the Council of Colored Churchmen.

The rump Diocese of Georgia was officially segregated for four decades.  During most of that time policy was to discourage African-American missions.  In 1907-1946 there were no African-American delegates to the annual diocesan conventions.  The Council of Colored Churchmen, formed in 1906, barely had any representation on diocesan committees.  Bishop Frederick Focke Reese (in office 1908-1936), a racist who delivered paternalistic addresses to African-American clergymen, neglected African-American congregations and schools financially.  Therefore, much financial assistance had to come from other sources, official (such as the denomination) and individual.  Anna was an effective fund raiser in this context.  The deaconess provided an education to many African-American youth and shepherded them into further education–some at colleges and others at technical schools.  She also worked as a cook at Camp Reese, the diocesan, whites-only summer camp on St. Simon’s Island, for a number of years.  The racially segregated Diocese of Georgia named a cabin after her in 1938.  The deaconess, while working as a cook for white campers at Camp Reese, brought groups of African-American youth to St. Simon’s Island and provided a sort of summer camp for them.

Bishop Middleton Stuart Barnwell (in office 1936-1954), unlike Bishop Reese, took an interest in African-American missions.  He spent diocesan funds to replace or repair buildings.  And, in 1947, he welcomed African Americans to the first racially integrated diocesan convention in four decades.

During the Great Depression Good Shepherd, Pennick, was a distribution center for federal and private aid in Glynn County.  Anna, who ministered to her neighbors without regard to race, was in charge of distribution.  She wrote:

I am to see everyone gets what they need….some folk don’t need help now and I know who they are.  The old people and the children, they need the most….When I tell some people they can’t get help just now…that others come first, they get mad, a little, but I don’t pay no mind and soon they forget to be mad.

The deaconess earned respect in her community and vicinity; many white men removed their hats in deference when she walked past them.

Anna died on September 24, 1947.  She was either in her late seventies or early eighties.  She remained mostly forgotten for many years.  The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (1960), by Henry Thompson Malone, never mentioned the deaconess’s name.  Even the otherwise excellent Black Episcopalians in Georgia:  Strife, Struggle and Salvation (1980), by Charles Lwanga Hoskins, frequently misidentified her as Dora.  (Father Hoskins was a wonderful man, a charming priest, and a fine homilist.  When I was a member of Trinity Episcopal Church, Statesboro, Georgia, he was a supply priest, filling in when the Rector was away.  Memories of some of his sermons have never ceased to edify me spiritually.  Hoskins did, however, often mistake Anna for her sister, Dora, in his book, still an invaluable source for this post.)  In recent years, however, Anna’s legacy has become more prominent, fortunately.  It has become sufficiently prominent that, in January 2018, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, an African American, visited Good Shepherd, Pennick.

May that legacy become more prominent.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 4, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL JONES, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF UTAH, AND PEACE ACTIVIST; AND HIS COLLEAGUE, JOHN NEVIN SAYRE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND PEACE ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF E. F. SCHUMACHER, GERMAN-BRITISH ECONOMIST AND SOCIAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH AND MARY GOMER, U.S. UNITED BRETHREN MISSIONARIES IN SIERRA LEONE

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM MCKANE, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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O God, you called Anna Alexander as a deaconess in your Church

and sent her as teacher and evangelist to the people of Georgia:

Grant us the humility to go wherever you send

and the wisdom to teach the word of Christ to whomever we meet,

that all may come to the enlightenment which you intend for your people;

through Jesus Christ, our Teacher and Savior.  Amen.

A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016)

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O God, who called Anna Alexander as a deaconess in your Church:

Grant us the humility to go wherever you send

and the wisdom to teach the word of Christ to whomever we meet,

that all may come to the enlightenment you intend for your people;

through Jesus Christ, our Teacher and Savior.  Amen.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 20-25

Psalm 78

Matthew 11:25-30

Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018

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Feast of Albert Rhett Stuart (July 8)   Leave a comment

Above:  The Flag of The Episcopal Church

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

An Episcopal flag hangs in my bedroom.  This is a rotated image.

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ALBERT RHETT STUART (1905-APRIL 21, 1973)

Episcopal Bishop of Georgia and Advocate for Civil Rights

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People are discovering that a life full of gadgets is no satisfactory substitute for a life lived in the power and presence of God.

–Bishop Albert Rhett Stuart, 1956; quoted in Henry Thompson Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (Atlanta:  Diocese of Atlanta, 1960), 195

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This feast comes to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via Saints of Georgia (1998, 2004), by Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., Bishop of Georgia from 1995 to 2010.  Bishop Louttit set the feast day on July 8 and concluded his profile of Bishop Stuart with:

Pray that we may stand with integrity for justice in our world, but always with compassion for sinners, including perpetrators of injustice.

–Page 16

That is consistent with the spirit Bishop Stuart embodied.

Scanned from Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (1960) by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Albert Rhett Stuart, born in Washington, D.C., in 1905, was a prophetic (in the best sense of that word) presence in the Church.  Prior to his tenure as the Sixth Bishop of Georgia (1954-1971) he was:

  1. Rector of the Church of the Redeemer, Greensboro, South Carolina (1931-1936);
  2. Rector of St. Michael’s Church, Charleston, South Carolina (1936-1947); and
  3. Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, New Orleans, Louisiana (1947-1954).

He also served on the denominational National Council from 1939 to 1943.

The date of Stuart’s consecration as Bishop of Georgia was October 20, 1954.

Above:  Episcopal Dioceses in Georgia, 1960

Scanned from Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (1960) by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Bishop Stuart presided over a mostly rural and deeply conservative diocese, the northern boundary of which was south of Columbus, to the south and east of Macon, and to the west and north of Augusta.  The Diocese of Atlanta (“the great northern diocese,” as Bishop Louttit called it in my presence once) filled out the rest of the state.  The Diocese of Florida was to the south, the Diocese of Alabama was to the west, and the Dioceses of South Carolina and Upper South Carolina were to the east.  Toward the end of Bishop Stuart’s tenure the Diocese of Alabama divided; the lower portion joined with the part of the Diocese of Florida in the Central Time Zone to form the Diocese of Central Gulf Coast.

Aside:  I grew up in southern and central Georgia–in the rural areas, to be precise.  My experiences taught me that these parts of the state have never been bastions of social, theological, and political progressivism, certainly not in the realms of race and gender.  Open racism was bad in the 1980s, when came of age.  Many of my neighbors and fellow parishioners could have walked off the screen at a screening of Blazing Saddles (1974).  The blatant racism was worse in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, when Stuart was the Bishop of Georgia.  Long have I had strong social, theological, and political differences with the majority in southern and central Georgia, a place where I felt like a resident heretic.  When I felt especially snarky, I called myself a Godless communist.  I have, of course, been a Christian as long as I can recall and have never been a communist.  Fabian Socialism has come to make much sense to me, however.

Bishop Stuart’s support for evangelism was vigorous.  He founded missions in growing communities and in towns lacking an Episcopal Church presence.  He also encouraged choirs and year-round Sunday school programs.  As he built up the Diocese of Georgia Bishop Stuart also oversaw the opening of the new camp and conference center, Honey Creek, in northern Camden County, in 1960.

Above:  Lodge 1, Honey Creek, May 15-16, 1998

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

With regard to emotional and difficult issues Bishop Stuart led the way while calling for patience and grace.  The latter of Stuart’s episcopate overlapped with the beginnings of the revision of The Book of Common Prayer (1928).  Early stages of the road to The Book of Common Prayer (1979) included The Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper (1967) and Services for Trial Use (1971).  Mainly in reference to the former, due to the chronology, Bishop Stuart called for calm and encouraged people to do as The Episcopal Church requested–send feedback via official channels.  Bishop Stuart also supported the expansion of roles for women in ecclesiastical life.  During his time as the Bishop of Georgia that mainly meant permitting women to full more leadership roles on the parish and diocesan levels.  “Laymen,” he insisted, meant men and women.

The major storm with which Bishop Stuart had to struggle was institutionalized racism.  At the 1956 diocesan convention he called for

patience and charity in the midst of prejudice.

–Quoted in Malone, The Episcopal Church in Georgia, 1733-1957 (1960), 196

For most of the existence of the Diocese of Georgia the African-American minority had been, as Father Charles Lwanga Hoskins, author of Black Episcopalians in Georgia:  Strife, Struggle and Salvation (1980), wrote, a

troublesome presence,

from the perspective of many in the white majority.  Under Bishop Stuart, however, African Americans in the Diocese of Georgia became, as Hoskins wrote,

part of the family.

This did not meet with the approval of many lay people, who were more conservative than their bishop and most of the priests.  This did not meet with the approval of some the priests either.  And, when Bishop Stuart, in segregationist Savannah, was one of the few white leaders who dared to go on television to support racial integration, he created more controversy.  In 1964 Bishop Stuart was one of 39 Jewish and Christian clergymen who signed the following statement:

Let every citizen recognize that all human rights and freedoms are given by God Almighty to be shared equally among all men, to be preserved, guaranteed and protected by government, and to be upheld by all persons for their mutual benefit and employment.

Thomas J. McDonough, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Savannah, signed the statement.  So did John Owen Smith, the bishop with jurisdiction over the North and South Georgia Conferences of The Methodist Church (later The United Methodist Church).  Yet many evangelical and fundamentalist religious leaders refused to sign the statement.  So did Father Ernest Risley, the Rector of St. John’s Church, Savannah, and one of the sixteen unsuccessful nominees for Bishop of Georgia in 1954.

Risley, a segregationist, refused to permit African Americans to worship on a regular basis at St. John’s Church.  In 1965 to wrote Fathers Harry Woolston Shipps (later the Bishop of Georgia, as Louttit’s immediate predecessor) and Mark Becton, priests of the diocese,

I believe that integration is contrary to God’s will. I will resign as a minister before I’ll allow Negroes in St. John’s.

That year Risley renounced his Episcopal ministry and led the overwhelming majority of St. John’s Church (the vote to leave had been 785-75) out of the denomination.  Most of the secessionists reunited with The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Georgia at Pentecost 1969, minus Risley and those who with him had formed St. Andrew’s Independent Episcopal Church in 1968.  St. Andrew’s Church affiliated with the Reformed Episcopal Church in 2006.  For the last few years the congregation has called itself St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, due to its affiliation with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Bishop Stuart retired in 1971.  He died in Savannah on April 21, 1973.  His wife, Isabella Alston Stuart (b. 1915) had predeceased him in 1964.  Their two children survived him.

Sometimes we in the church need bishops and other leaders who contradict our prejudices, to which we cling stubbornly.  We might recognize the greatness and moral courage of such leaders after they have left office or died.  But do we dare to recognize their greatness and moral courage in real time?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 9, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS STEFAN AND KAZIMIERZ GRELEWSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS,  1941 AND 1942

THE FEAST OF DIETRICH BUXTEHUDE, LUTHERAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY DAY AND PETER LAURIN, COFOUNDERS OF THE CATHOLIC WORKER MOVEMENT

THE FEAST OF THOMAS TOKE LYNCH, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Albert Rhett Stuart,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

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

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), 60

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