It’s August, one of the dreamiest months of the year. It’s too hot and humid to do anything other than take it down a notch. You walk slower and sit longer. It’s a great time to meet friends for dinner at one of the bustling outdoor cafes, after the sun has gone down, and whether you are drinking ice tea, lemonade or a margarita, frozen or on the rocks, nothing could be finer. Carry on.
The end of July seemed to be the time for conventions, before everyone disappears to one place or another for the last bit of summer. The NAACP held a national convention, as did the National Bar Association and the Union of Black Episcopalians at their 49th annual Business Meeting and Conference. Skipping the first two, I had the opportunity to attend the last. Charles is an Episcopalian, I am a Catholic, but it’s all one love.
Although the conference was held at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, N.J., church services were held in nearby Philadelphia, where we were able to visit friends and family. The conference agenda was planned jointly with members from the African Descent Lutheran Association. Together, tribute was paid throughout the conference to the respective founders Absalom Jones and Jehu Jones Jr.
Absalom Jones (Nov. 7, 1746-Feb. 13, 1818), has been credited with founding a Black congregation at St. Thomas Church in Philadelphia (the nation’s oldest Black Episcopal Church), in 1794. He went on to become the first African-American ordained priest in the Episcopal Church of the United States, in 1804. I often write about Jones during the month of February, when most tributes are paid.
I was unfamiliar with Jehu Jones Jr. and had to conduct a little research. Here is what I found. Taken from the website Blackpast.com the online reference site for African-American history, it reads as follows:
“Jehu Jones Jr., the first African-American Lutheran pastor, was born in Charleston, S.C. on Sept. 4, 1786, to slave parents, Jehu Sr. and Abigail Jones. Jones’ parents were freed in 1798. The elder Jones, who had been trained as a tailor, was able to buy a house and take up inn keeping, eventually running an upscale hotel in Charleston with his wife. Jones was originally affiliated with the Episcopal Church but, finding himself increasingly drawn to Lutheranism, around 1820 he became a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Charleston. With the encouragement of his pastor, the Reverend John Bachman, Jones traveled to New York to be ordained by the New York Synod in 1832 as a missionary to Liberia to help the freed slaves in that country. However, when Jones returned to Charleston after being ordained, he was briefly jailed for violating a law prohibiting freed Blacks from returning to a state they had left.
“After his release Jones moved to Philadelphia, Pa., and in June 1833 the Pennsylvania ministry decided that he should be appointed ‘to labor as a Missionary… among the colored people in Philadelphia under the direction of our Ministers.’ On February 16, 1834 the St. Paul’s congregation that Jones founded decided to build a church with the help of other Lutheran congregations. Four months later, Jones purchased two lots on 150 S. Quince Street for the church to be built. Assisted by pastors Philip Mayer of Philadelphia and Benjamin Keller of St. Michael’s Church in Germantown, Jones laid the cornerstone for the building. Jones also founded Lutheran churches in Gettysburg and Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, but those were not exclusively Black congregations.
“The first congregation of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church was composed of 20 impoverished Black Philadelphians. Nonetheless, by the time the church edifice was dedicated in 1836 they and other supporters paid off over $1,000, or 40 percent of the expenses. The community and religious leaders promised to pay off the remaining $1,300 two years later if Reverend Jones and the congregation relinquished ownership of the church to them. Jones agreed to the arrangement and continued as pastor, but the new owners never paid the remaining balance. To try to prevent foreclosure, Jones organized a rummage sale to pay off the church debt. Unfortunately, the owner of the store where the sale was supposed to be held backed out, and in 1839 St. Paul’s Church was sold at a sheriff’s auction.
“Jones continued to lead his congregation, holding Sunday services at Benezet Hall on Seventh Street. He organized a convention in 1845 at Philadelphia’s Temperance Hall, urging listeners to petition city authorities for Black civil rights. Jones also involved himself in organizations dedicated to improving the living conditions among Philadelphia’s African-Americans.
“Jones tried to start a Lutheran church in New York City in 1849, but the New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church barred him from doing so because of what they charged as the mismanagement of finances at St. Paul’s Church. Jones responded in a pamphlet arguing that the unpaid debts were beyond his control because of racial prejudice against the congregation. Reverend Jehu Jones Jr. died at age 66 in 1852. St. Paul’s Church survived only a few years after his death.”
I thought it important and worthwhile to repeat this story because it is not only a bit of Black history but also inspiring. How often do we feel overwhelmed, despondent and dare I say depressed because things are not how we like them to be? How often do we fail to remember that we have the option to change how we feel by changing our perspective? How we look at situations, deal with life with a positive attitude and live happily in the present is often achieved by looking to those who have made remarkable strides in the past—without cell phones, modern technology, drugs and alcohol.
This part is a continuation of last week’s theme on mental health. I took on the humungous task of redoing my daughter’s room while she is away at camp. This renovation meant throwing out a lot of junk, giving away loads of clothes that no longer fit and getting a new bed because she has outgrown the one she’s had since coming out of a toddler bed. If I were going to go through all of that, then why not paint the room as well. While taking a break in the 95-degree heat and looking out of the window, I noticed a young woman yelling at a very young child who was on his skate board as they crossed the street. Clearly the child was too young to know how to properly cross the street, and the young woman too stressed—a mental health issue in the making. Do you think a little knowledge of her past would help her with the present and make way for a better future? Just ask Absalom and Jehu.
Until next week … kisses.