“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
– Luke 11: 9-13
Dear People of St. David’s,
This coming Sunday, February 13th, we will celebrate the Feast Day of Blessed Absalom Jones. The Episcopal Church adds people to our Calendar of Saints on the dates of their deaths, and February 13 falls on a Sunday this year, providing a wonderful opportunity for us.
We remember and celebrate Absalom Jones as the first Black priest in the brand new Episcopal Church, but this is an insufficient description. For us in the greater Philadelphia area, we proudly claim him as our own, because although his early life was in Delaware, he lived most of his life in our city. Fr. Jones’ life was exemplary in so many ways, from slavery to freedom, from his work with Richard Allen in The Free African Society, to the founding of St. Thomas African Episcopal Church (still flourishing in our diocese). And then there is his tender ministry with The Rev. Richard Allen and others during the Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793, when over one hundred thousand people died.
What impelled him in his remarkable life? For Absalom Jones, Faith Mattered! He taught himself to read using the New Testament as his primer. Surely he read the story Jesus told (quoted above), in which Jesus explains that one must be persistent, not giving up, and that persistence brings gifts of God in the Holy Spirit. Imagine the persistence required to earn enough to buy his own freedom, and subsequently, the freedom of his young wife. How easy it would be to lose heart over those long years, and yet, he persisted. He truly believed that God would give gifts to him, and this persistent belief matured and flourished.
When the Yellow Fever Epidemic struck Philadelphia, Absalom Jones, Richard Allen and their parishioners became servant leaders. They entered the households of the dead and removed their bodies. They did this over and over, day by day, in spite of accusations of theft. We have the written records of their defenses against vicious attacks on their characters and intentions. For Fr. Jones and his colleague The Rev. Richard Allen (founder of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination) faith mattered. It could only have been faith that called them to love God with all their hearts and souls, and minds and strength, and their neighbors as themselves, even neighbors who had been their oppressors.
You might wish to register for the Diocese of Pennsylvania’s annual celebration of our local saint. I’ve been informed that by registering you indicate your support, even if you are unable to attend, and that the recording will be available after the event on our Diocese of Pennsylvania YouTube channel.
And please join us in person or online this coming Sunday for our own St. David’s celebration. Faith matters, and we have no better teacher than The Rev. Absalom Jones.
The Rev. Elizabeth W. Colton