Join the Union of Black Episcopalians, the Diocese of Indianapolis, and CCC as we honor the contributions and leadership of the Rev. Absalom Jones, the first African American ordained to the priesthood, in 1802, by the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Andrea Arsene, Curate at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette, will preach.
Parking will be provided at the Express Park Garage at 20 N. Pennsylvania St. Bring your ticket with you to be validated by an usher.
Born into slavery in 1746 in Delaware, Jones was educated in Philadelphia while still enslaved. After marrying, he raised funds to purchase his wife’s freedom in 1778, thus ensuring their children would be born free. Jones himself was not freed until 1784. (Pennsylvania had passed the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780, the first such legislation in the western hemisphere. The act gradually emancipated enslaved people without making slavery immediately illegal.)
Jones served as a lay minister at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church. As the number of Black attendees increased in the congregation, the Vestry decided to impose segregation, prompting a walkout of Black members.
In 1787, Jones and other Black Christians organized the Free African Society, a mutual aid society, where members paid monthly dues to benefit those in need. The Society established relationships with similar Black organizations and, in 1792, established a church. The African Church applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on the following conditions:
- that they be received as an organized body;
- that they have control over their local affairs; and
- that Absalom Jones be licensed as layreader, and, if qualified, be ordained as minister.
In October 1794 the African Church was admitted to the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania as St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. Jones was ordained as deacon in 1795 and as priest on September 21, 1802. He was the first former slave to be ordained a priest.
Jones earnestly denounced slavery from the pulpit, proclaiming God as the protector of the oppressed and distressed. His mild manner and community engagement attracted more than 500 members in the church’s first year. Jones’ abolitionist activities didn’t end at the church door. He also petitioned Congress on multiple occasions to convince the nation’s leaders that slavery was immoral and offensive to God.