The inaugural Jones-Murray lecture, named for the Revs. Absalom Jones and Dr. Anna Pauline (Pauli) Murray, the first Black male and female priests in the Episcopal Church respectively, will be held March 18, 11 a.m. at St. James Episcopal Church, Richmond, Virginia.
The Rev. Dr. Harold T. Lewis, rector of Calvary Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, will be the keynote speaker for the event he said will "honor two distinguished Black Episcopalians" and their legacy.
"An earnest preacher'
Jones was born a house slave in 1746 in Delaware and taught himself to read out of the New Testament. In 1762, he was sold to a store owner in Philadelphia, where he attended a night school for blacks operated by Quakers. Jones did not earn his freedom until the age of 38.
In Philadelphia, Jones served as a lay preacher at St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church where he helped increased their black membership. The vestry expressed its displeasure by secretly deciding to segregate black members to the balcony. During a Sunday service when ushers attempted to move Jones and others upstairs, the black members walked out.
In 1787, black Christians established the Free African Society, a service organization for blacks, and elected Jones to its leadership. Thereafter, the Society began to build a church, which applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. In 1794, the church was admitted as St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. The church grew rapidly and Jones was ordained as deacon and later as priest. He died in 1818.
The Episcopal Church has since designated February 13 as Absalom Jones Day to celebrate his life and ministry. Lesser Feasts and Fasts states that "Absalom Jones was an earnest preacher. He denounced slavery, and warned the oppressors to 'clean their hands of slaves.' To him, God was the Father who always acted on "behalf of the oppressed and distressed."
Co-founder of NOW
Murray, born November 20, 1910, was an American civil rights advocate, feminist, lawyer, poet, teacher and ordained minister. She was a professor of American studies at Brandeis University from 1968 to 1973.
She testified on discrimination against women before the 91st Congress of the United States and co-founded NOW, the National Organization for Women, dedicated to making legal, political, social and economic change in society in order to eliminate sexism and end oppression. NOW was established on June 30, 1966 in Washington, D.C., by people attending the Third National Conference of the Commission on the Status of Women.
Murray co-authored NOW's original Statement of Purpose, which began:
The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.
She died in 1985.
Racism is alive and well
"Each in his or her own way fought for justice in their respective eras," said Lewis. "I think it could be observed that while discrimination and racism were perhaps more blatant in the times of Absalom Jones—I mean after all he was allowed to be ordained only with the understanding that he and the people of St. Thomas would not be part of the convention of the Diocese of Pennsylvania—that racism is [still] alive and well and sometimes manifests itself in more subtle ways."
An author himself, Lewis said his speech will reference books such as "The Church Enslaved: A Spirituality for Racial Reconciliation" by Tony Campolo and Michael Battle, and "Episcopalians and Race: Civil War to Civil Rights" by Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr.
"They [the authors] basically remind us that the church was not immune to racism and that in fact it had its own particular manifestation of it," Lewis said. "Martin Luther King said that 11a.m. Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America. So they actually make recommendations as to how the church can fight to alleviate racism not only in society but within the church."
"As a historian, I think people are not aware of the history of the church's good and bad points so I would certainly look into the history of race relations, especially in the Episcopal Church," he said.
'Has not always been prophetic'
"I think it [the lecture] is significant because the Episcopal Church kind of flips from one ‘ism’ to another," Lewis said. "When the next ‘ism’ comes along, be it sexism or heterosexism, we tend to leave racism behind and the implication is that it is settled, done with, cured."
The church "has not always been prophetic but has often followed the lead of the country," he said. "Then we get all involved in it, and we picket, and demonstrate and decry racism."
"While we don't want to beat people over the head, we do want to point out some of the subtle ways that racism still affects our common life— and not with the intent to diminish the other ‘isms’ but to say that we shouldn't discard our concerns about race because we have moved on to other concerns," Lewis said.
The Jones-Murray Lecture is being sponsored by St. Philip's Church, the oldest and largest Black church in the Diocese of Virginia, and the Virginia chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians. Donations of $10 per person are requested and will benefit the Union of Black Episcopalians’ 38th National Convention and Conference, which will be held July 31-August 4 at the Omni Hotel, Richmond, Virginia. For more information visit http://www.ube.org For additional information on the lecture, contact the Rev. Dr. Alonzo C. Pruitt, rector of St. Philip's Church at 804.321.1266 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: The following titles are available from the Episcopal Book and Resource Center, 800.903.5544; http://www.episcopalbookstore.org/
To Read: THE CHURCH ENSLAVED: A Spirituality for Racial Reconciliation by Tony Campolo and Michael Battle, $15.
Two of the most vocal activists on racial issues in the church here seek nothing less than a conversion of American Christianity. Campolo and Battle expose the sad history and present realities of racism in the churches and then lift up a vision of a church and society without racism. To achieve reconciliation among Christians, they argue, both Black and white churches, need to acknowledge and overcome substantial problems in their traditions. Campolo and Battle then directly challenge Christians to a deeper spirituality, enabling them to resume leadership in overcoming and redressing America's legacy of racial division.
Tony Campolo, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University at St. David's, Pennsylvania, is a leading Evangelical writer, and
Michael Battle, is Associate Academic Dean and Vice President and Associate Professor of Theology at Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, Virginia.
To Read: EPISCOPALIANS AND RACE: Civil War to Civil Rights by Gardiner H. Shattuck, Jr., $35.
Episcopalians and Race examines the ambivalent relationship between African Americans and the predominantly white leadership of the Episcopal Church. Paying special attention to the1950s and 1960s, the author focuses on the impact of the civil rights movement on church life. As historians have recently suggested, the efforts of mainline Protestant denominations were critically important in the struggle for civil rights, and Episcopalians expended significant resources in striving for racial justice and in strengthening missionary outreach among African Americans in the South.
An Episcopal priest with a Ph.D. in religion from Harvard University, Shattuck discusses both the church's lofty theological ideals and the often shoddy treatment of its African American members. He offers an insider's history of the church's efforts to come to terms with race and racism in the United States over the past century and a half.