Prior to the Revolutionary War, our denomination and the Methodist were still a part of the Church of England, so all the clergy, whether they practiced as a Methodist or not, were also a part of the Church of England. However, during the war, it became very unpopular to be associated with anything English, and so many of the Anglican / Church of England clergy fled back to England or to Canada. This left a void in the colonies, because there were so few priest who could provide the sacraments; therefore, some of the Methodist who opted to remain in the colonies—in the words of an Anglican priest—began, “to ordain themselves and make priests of one another. This I remember,” he recalls, “they called a step—but I considered it a prodigious stride; a most unwarrantable usurpation, and a flagrant violation of all order.” He didn’t like it, but this set into motion the eventual formation of the Methodist Church as a separate denomination in 1795.
In the midst of all this, a former African slave, Absalom Jones, and his friend, Richard Allen, began ministering to the needs of the black population of Philadelphia, utilizing St. George’s Church as home base. They were successful… too successful in the eyes of the white members, who eventually forced the black congregation to sit in a section of the balcony. However, one day, Absalom and Richard sat in the wrong section and were forcibly removed, so they left St. George’s and took the entire black congregation with them. They went on to form the Free African Society. At the same time, the Church of England in America was breaking away and in 1789, became the Episcopal Church. So, the Free African Society was a part of the Episcopal Church as were the Methodist, but just to make sure you’re thoroughly confused now, this is also the time when the Methodist began their formal break from the Church of England and from the Episcopal Church, once again, leaving everyone to decide who’s side the would join: the Methodist Church or the Episcopal Church.
The Free African Society also had to decide, but even here there was a split. Richard Allen wanted to stay with the Methodist and Absalom Jones wanted to go with the Episcopal. They agreed to go their separate ways on this decision, but continued to work together.
All of this left Absalom Jones in charge of the Free African Society. So he petitioned the Episcopal Church to become a church of the denomination and this was granted. The following year, he was ordained a deacon and in 1802 he was priested. The first black priest in the Episcopal Church. He remained a priest at the church that was formed, St. Thomas’, and while there, doubled the size of the congregation and baptized 1,195 individuals.
Also of interest: Richard Allen would eventually leave the Methodist Church with several members, along with a few members from Absalom Jones’ Episcopal Church and go on to form the first African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, the denomination of our friends over at St. Stephen’s.
Clear as mud?
Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Given the amount of fracturing we see in the Church, you would think that we don’t do a very good job at loving one another, but running through the veins of every denomination is the blood of Christ. We may appear different in so many ways, from the color of our skin to the ways we worship, but together, we are The Church, the mystical Body of Christ.