The Diocese of Missouri offered an uplifting virtual celebration of the life and ministry of Absalom Jones, which featured Presiding Bishop Michael Curry and other Black bishops in the Episcopal Church in an inspirational reading of Maya Angelou’s poem, Still I Rise.
Absalom Jones (1746-1818) was an African American abolitionist and clergyman. After founding St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in 1794, he was the first African American ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church of the United States in 1804.
The Rt. Rev. Deon K. Johnson, Eleventh Bishop of The Diocese of Missouri, designed the liturgy and curated the video recordings from the bishops for the project, which was streamed on Facebook, YouTube and the diocesan website on Saturday, Feb. 27. Along with the poetry reading, the liturgy also featured a stirring sermon by the Rt. Rev. Gayle Harris, Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts.
Members from throughout the diocese and the community participated in scripture readings and provided recorded hymns. Since its premiere on social media, the worship service and poetry reading (as separate posts) have been viewed by more than 1,000 people.
“It was my hope to capture a part of the enduring legacy of the people of color who have gone before as we continue the struggle for justice within the church and within our communities,” said Bishop Johnson. “Maya Angelou’s poem speaks powerfully and soulfully to the strength, courage, and conviction of those who have endured and continue to endure. In the midst of Black History month, to hear bishops of African Descent proclaim, ‘I rise’ is a testament to God’s Spirit moving in the Church and in our world.”
This service highlighted the Diocesan Dismantling Racism Commission’s annual Absalom Jones celebration event, with about 65 members gathering on Zoom to watch the worship service together and then discuss how we – as individuals and as parishes – can continue the work of the Blessed Absalom Jones and stand firm against racism in our communities.
Visit The Diocese of Missouri’s website to watch videos of the poem, the sermon, and the complete liturgy.