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Sermon for Absalom Jones – Br. David Allen

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Here is my sermon for today.  I have added remarks about Fr. Charles Neale Field, SSJE, to show the beginnings and some of the continuation of ministry to “People of Color” done (undertaken) by members of the SSJE from the late 19th Century and well into the 20th Century.  This is not to say we don’t do any of that ministry, but our involvement has of necessity changed.  I was the last “priest in charge of the Church of St. Martin and St. Augustine” and shared in ministry there from almost the time when I entered the SSJE until the Diocese of Massachusetts took it over.  As a deacon during my postulancy, and throughout my novitiate and the first year of my life vows I took my place in the rotation of some Sundays at St. Martin & St. Augustine, and some at St. John’s Church, Bowdoin Street, Boston, the church of the SSJE until the mid-1970s.   From early 1962 until late 1975 I was in Japan, except for occasional furloughs.  My time as “priest in charge at St. Martin & St. Augustine” was while I was on furlough from Japan, sometime in 1972 until the spring of 1973.

– David Allen, SSJE

davidallen_1[Gal. 5:1-5 / Jn 15:12-15]

It is appropriate that the first words of the Epistle reading for today are, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” (Gal. 5:1)

Absalom Jones was born as a house slave in Delaware in 1746.  He taught himself to read and write English by studying the New Testament, and bought his own freedom in 1784.  Soon after that he and his friend Richard Allen became lay ministers at St. George’s Methodist Church.

The Vestry of that church seems to have been lacking in their understanding of Christian Love. When they decided to segregate the Blacks into an upstairs gallery, the Blacks walked out as a body.

In 1787 the Black Christians organized a Free African Society and elected Absalom Jones and Richard Allen as overseers.  A church was built, and they were received by the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania in 1794.  Their church was dedicated as St. Thomas African Episcopal Church.  Under the ministry of Absalom Jones, who had by then been ordained as deacon and priest, St. Thomas’ Church grew to 500 within the first year.  His example of persistent faith and love enabled the Church to be seen as an instrument of God’s love.

Looking ahead from that, not quite 100 years, we find a tall, lean English priest, the Rev. Charles Neale Field, SSJE, whose zeal, love and persistent faith was a good match with that of Absalom Jones.  Early in his priesthood Fr. Field developed a special feeling for ministry to “colored” people, not because they were black, but because they were looked down on.

After his Life Profession Fr. Field was sent to Philadelphia, then, in a few years he was sent to Boston.

The churches in Boston for “Colored” people were St. Martin’s in Roxbury, and St. Augustine’s in the West end. They ministered primarily to those from the Caribbean Islands. (I use the term “Colored” because it is more inclusive than “African American”)

Then an extension of the Red Line Subway going to Cambridge was being built just where St. Augustine’s Church was located. Fr. Field organized the combining of St. Augustine’s with St. Martin’s in Roxbury. That church became one of the ministries for most of us in the SSJE, until the Diocese took it over in 1973.

Fr. Field also acquired land in Foxboro for what he called St. Augustine’s Farm, a summer camp for the children of that Church.  Out of his prayer and his love for Christ Fr. Field performed many good works for God.

Does this help you understand why I added the work of Fr. Field here as a sequel to the work of Absalom Jones?

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