13 February 2023

Praying in Ordinary Time
with USPG: 13 February 2023

The Revd Absalom Jones … America’s first Black priest (Raphaelle Peale, Delaware Art Museum)

Patrick Comerford

These weeks, between the end of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, are known as Ordinary Time. We are in a time of preparation for Lent, which in turn is a preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Before today becomes a busy day, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

In these days of Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday later this month (22 February), I am reflecting in these ways each morning:

1, reflecting on a saint or interesting person in the life of the Church;

2, one of the lectionary readings of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The Revd Absalom Jones, America’s first Black priest, is commemorated in the calendar of the Episcopal Church today (13 February).

He was born in slavery in Sussex County, Delaware, on 7 November 1746. When he was 16, his owner sold him along with his mother and siblings to a neighbouring farmer. The farmer kept Absalom, but sold his mother and siblings, and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he became a merchant.

Absalom studied at a night school for African Americans ran by Quakers. When he was released from slavery in 1784, he became a lay minister at Saint George’s Methodist Episcopal Church with his friend Richard Allen (1760-1831). Together they established the Free African Society to aid in the emancipation of slaves and to offer sustenance and spiritual support to widows, orphans, and the poor.

Thanks to the active evangelism of Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, Black membership at Saint George’s grew. However, alarmed by the rise in Black attendance, the vestry decided to segregate Black churchgoers into the upstairs gallery, without giving any warning. This prompted their immediate departure from the congregation.

Soon after, Absalom Jones and Ricard Allen, with the help of local Quakers and Episcopalians, founded the First African Church in Philadelphia. The church later applied to join the Episcopal Church, giving the diocese three requirements: the church must be received as an already organised body; it must have control over its own affairs; and Jones must be licensed as lay reader and if qualified, ordained as its minister.

The church was accepted into the Diocese of Pennsylvania and was renamed the African Episcopal Church of Saint Thomas. Absalom Jones was ordained deacon in 1795, and was ordained priest in 1802.

Absalom Jones continued to be a leader in his community, founding a day school for African Americans who were excluded from public school, the Female Benevolent Society, and an African Friendly Society. In 1800, he called upon Congress to abolish the slave trade and to provide for gradual emancipation of existing slaves.

Absalom Jones died on 13 February 1818 in Philadelphia. The Episcopal Church remembers his life and service with a Lesser Feast on the anniversary of his death, 13 February, and the Diocese of Pennsylvania honours his memory with an annual celebration and award.

The Episcopal Church remembers Absalom Jones with a Lesser Feast on 13 February

Mark 8: 11-13 (NRSVA):

11 The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ 13 And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.

‘Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation’ (Mark 8: 12) … confusing signs leading into the sea at the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Bray Day.’ This theme was introduced yesterday by Jo Sadgrove, USPG’s Research and Learning Advisor, who shared the challenges of uncovering USPG’s archives.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for the work of USPG in the week that we remember its founder, Thomas Bray. May we look back with open minds to discover new insights to inform the path we tread.

The Collect for the Feast of Absalom Jones:

Set us free, heavenly Father,
from every bond of prejudice and fear;
that, honouring the steadfast courage
of your servant Absalom Jones,
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 Saviour Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The Revd Absalom Jones was ordained deacon in 1795 and priest in 1802

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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