The 11th annual Absalom Jones and Richard Allen celebration
This past Saturday, the diocese of California put on the 11th annual service of celebration remembering the Rev.s Absalom Jones and Richard Allen. Jones and Allen were both born slaves who bought their own freedom in 1784 and 1783, respectively. Freedom allowed them to be great evangelists and the pair founded the Free African Society together in 1787. Two years later, Allen left to stay true to his Methodist values as the society took up Quaker principles. Jones went on to help the society build a church, and in 1794, “The African Church” was made St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in the diocese of Pennsylvania. Soon after, Jones was ordained a deacon and after another seven years, a priest. Allen had gone on to found Bethel church, which, as an autonomous black Methodist church, “became the ‘Mother’ of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.” Allen was also ordained a deacon and was later made the first bishop in the A.M.E. Church.
The diocese worked with the Afro Anglican Commission, the Union of Black Episcopalians, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church to plan the service and following reception held at St. Paul’s, Oakland. The service led by a beautiful blend of over 30 leaders in the Episcopal and A.M.E. Church. Bishops from both denominations shared the lead roles — Bishop Marc presided and celebrated Eucharist after the A.M.E. Church’s 5th district Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Clement Fugh gave the homily. The A.M.E. Church also was represented by 25 or so members of their California Conference’s Choir.
Bishop Clement Fugh was greeted with applause as he stood before the congregation, where he noted the ways in which black people have historically been treated and experienced America in drastically different ways than white people. The unique stories of Jones and Allen was the historical backdrop for which Bishop Fugh seamlessly spoke about the present day. He mentioned the militarization of America’s police force, and particularly emphasized the illegality of the chokehold police officers put Eric Garner in on a New York City street corner when he was peddling cigarettes. He raised the question of how Mr. Garner would have been treated had he not been black. Throughout his preaching, scattered shouts of “Amen!” erupted from the congregation whenever he finished a sentence that really reached the soul of the listener. This served as communication between the congregation and the bishop — who with every “Amen!” uttered another bluntly comforting truth. To wind down the deeply emotional sermon, he called on the approximately 100 attendees to go out into the world to love thy neighbor and value the life of every human being.