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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 James Bolan Lawrence (September 3)   Leave a comment

Above:  Calvary Episcopal Church, Americus, Georgia

Scanned from a Business Card

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JAMES BOLAN LAWRENCE (JANUARY 2, 1878-JULY 28, 1947)

Episcopal Priest and Missionary in Southwestern Georgia, U.S.A.

Also known as Brother Jimmy Lawrence

“The Bishop of Buckwheat”

In The Episcopal Church the commemoration of saints has become complicated during the last decade or so.  Editions of The Book of Common Prayer have, since the first one in 1549, included major feasts, the number of which has increased as Prayer Book revision has taken place from time to time.  The first edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts debuted in 1963 as the calendar expanded.  Subsequent editions of Lesser Feasts and Fasts (through 2006) have become thicker as the General Convention has added more saints.  The most recent General Convention approved Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2018, with more saints than Lesser Feasts and Fasts 2006Lesser Feasts and Fasts has remained the official denominational calendar of commemorations despite the even more expanded calendar defined first by Holy Women, Holy Men (2010) then by A Great Cloud of Witnesses (2016).  Many dioceses have long observed their local saints also.  Some of these local commemorations have filtered up to the denominational level.  The Diocese of Georgia has, since 1999, recognized James Bolan Lawrence as a saint, with September 3 as his feast day.  His feast has remained particular to the Diocese of Georgia, except, as far as I know, at this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days.

James Bolan Lawrence was a dedicated missionary.  He born, in Marietta, Georgia, on January 2, 1878, was the fifth of six children of Robert de Treville Lawrence (b. 1841) and Anna E. Atkinson.  Lawrence, baptized in St. James Episcopal Church, Marietta, Georgia (then in the Diocese of Georgia; in the Diocese of Atlanta since 1907), graduated from General Theological Seminary, New York City.  He, a bachelor, collected silver cups, entertained at home, was a wonderful conversationalist, and maintained a rigorous schedule as he ministered to his parish and missions.

For 42 years (1905-1947) Lawrence served as the Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, Americus, Georgia.  Most of those years he was also the Archdeacon of Albany; in that capacity he had administrative authority over missions.  As the Rector of Calvary Church Lawrence oversaw construction (completed in 1921) of the new building, designed by Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942), the architect who designed the Cathedral of St John the Divine, New York City.  Lawrence also founded the following rural congregations:

  1. Holy Trinity Church, Blakely;
  2. Epiphany Church, Cuthbert;
  3. St. James Church, Pennington;
  4. Calvary Church, Dawson; and
  5. the unorganized mission at Benevolence.

Lawrence also served at Prince of Peace Church, Vienna; and Christ Church, Cordele.

Above:  Locations of Churches Lawrence Served

Map Source = Hammond’s Complete World Atlas (1951), 171

[Correction:  I marked the wrong Benevolence on the map above.  Father Lawrence established a mission in the Sumter County community of Benevolence, on Highway 19.–KRT, December 23, 2018]

If that were not enough, Lawrence did more.  In 1929 he became a trustee of the Fort Valley High and Industrial School, an institution of The Episcopal Church.  (Now it is Fort Valley State University, a public institution.)  And, in 1934-1935, Lawrence was a candidate for Bishop Coadjutor of Georgia.  Middleton Stuart Barnwell (1884-1957) won that election and succeeded to the post of Bishop of Georgia in 1936.  He served until 1954.

Lawrence, the rector of one parish and the vicar of several missions, began to anticipate his retirement in the 1940s.  His intention was to retire to Pennington and spend his final years as the Vicar of St. James Church.  None of that happened, though.  He suffered his first heart attack in December 1945, when he was 67 years old.  Lawrence eventually resumed priestly duties, but had a second heart attack on Sunday, May 25, 1947.  He died on St. Simon’s Island on July 28, 1947.  Lawrence was 69 years old.  He could not spend retirement as the Vicar of St. James Church, Pennington, but he found his final resting place there.  Other priests continued the work he had begun and continued.

Time has marched on.  Of the churches Lawrence founded, only Holy Trinity, Blakely, has survived.  (I have visited there.  The buildings have long been near the courthouse square.)  Calvary Church, Dawson, closed; Holy Spirit Church, Dawson, succeeded it.  Calvary Church, Americus, suffered a schism in 2012; the congregation has struggled much of the time since then.  If that were not enough, the physical structure has become endangered, in the name of economic progress.

Yet I have discerned reasons for optimism.  Christ Church, Cordele, was struggling when I was a member there, in 1998-2001.  I recall vocalized questions about whether the congregation would continue to exist.  The church, long a perpetual mission, except for a few years in the 1970s, when it was a parish, has been thriving again for some years now.

I predict that the best years of Calvary Episcopal Church, Americus, await it.

May the legacy of James Bolan Lawrence and the call of the Great Commission continue to inspire people–especially in The Episcopal Church–in southwestern Georgia.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMÉ DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

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Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant James Bolan Lawrence,

whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of southwestern Georgia.

Raise up in this and very land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom,

that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ;

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

Isaiah 52:7-10

Psalm 96 or 96:1-7

Acts 1:1-9

Luke 10:1-9

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 716

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