Absalom Jones (1746-1818)
Feast day: February 13
This month the Saint of the month is not a canonized saint with the Roman Catholic Church, as the previous few have been. Saints come in many ways and from many spiritual paths, Absalom Jones is recognized in the Anglican Tradiiton for the devotion he showed and the gifts he left behind. All while refusing to accept the limitations society tried to give him as an outcast.
Part of being an outcast, is knowing who we are inside and knowing our own self worth, then moving beyond the obstacles society tries to limit or condemn us by. These obstacles of all sizes might be some of the hardest parts of being an outcast, by accepting the awareness others are not going to like us because of our race, addiction, sexual orientation, gender-identity, poverty, and so on. It is part of the journey of our own path, to show a different way of living is possible, no matter how small a shift of broader awareness it may be.
Many of the leaders or catalysts for social change may not be recognized for theIr contributions during their lifetime. The need is seen. Then someone will plant the seed and leave it to nurture and grow. It takes someone to first break and stir up the soil, then plant the seed. The life of Absalom Jones is just that, a seed planter. Although he was born into slavery, purchasing his freedom in 1784, after he paid for the freedom of his wife six years earlier. He taught himself to read, continuing to see the need and the opportunities for other African-Americans.
He is not the first African American to be ordained in the U.S., that goes to Reverend Lemuel Haynes. However, Absalom Jones, is the first Ordained African American in the Episcopal Church in 1795 and also founded the first all black church in America, St. Thomas Episcopal church in Philadelphia. The church was made up of members from the Free African Society, that Jones and friend Richard Allen (1760-1831) started when black church members were asked to sit apart from the white members of the church, in either the balcony or the narthex during services. St. Thomas is still serving the community today, along with some 90 other churches that were at one time all black churches. St. Thomas celebrated their two year anniversary in 1992. Later on, Absalom Jones, again with Richard Allen now ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church, started the African Methodist-Episcopal Church (AME).
It could be said that part of being an outcast and a saint is love for self and the love of others. To take opportunities to build communities that are empowered, uplifted and recognizing the value everyone holds. As an outcast, we are able to see the presence of God when we learn to turn toward God for comfort and celebrations of life. However, that looks for each of us, with music, in meditation, contemplative prayer or however we are able to hear God’s inner guidance, leading us toward being whole.
Absalom Jones, heard God’s calling. Just as with the disciples, God does not call the prepared, God prepares a way for the called. He saw the need and opportunities for everyone to be of service to one another, not being stopped with limitations society tried to lay upon them because of their race. For Absalom, this way included starting multiple churches that reached out to an underserved community. This enabled a place for all God’s children to hear the word of God and to have the opportunity to be fully present in service.
The life of Absalom Jones continues with congregations who are a part of the Episcopal and AME Churches that he and others helped to establish and more. Then well into the future, in Atlanta with the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing carries on the mission of meeting the needs of the community. Absalom planted a seed, he did not see or know how far reaching the impact would reach. Though it may not be a church, it might be an outreach of kindness to another person, being a guide for someone, prayer and so many other ways we can be present to people around us and to God. We like Absalom Jones hold the same opportunity to start a ripple for God, that can expand beyond our comprehension.