Reflection by Christina Brennan Lee on the Rev. Absalom Jones for 10 February 2023.
You must before your God appear to give an account of your transactions, and how you spent your time, when here.”
~ The Rev. Absalom Jones
On Cedar Beach Road (DE Route 36), just 0.2 miles from Delaware Route 1, near Milford, is an historical marker for Absalom Jones, born near there in 1746. Celebrated by the Episcopal Church in the U.S. each year on February 13, Absalom Jones was born enslaved to Abraham Wynkoop, a wealthy Anglican planter in Sussex County, Delaware.
Wynkoop was working in the fields when he recognized that Absalom was an intelligent child and ordered that he be trained to work in the house. Wynkoop provided a most unusual instruction in reading for this child, which Absalom accepted with great eagerness. Absalom also saved the money he was given and bought books (among them a primer, a spelling book, and a bible).
Abraham Wynkoop died in 1753 and by 1755 his younger son Benjamin had inherited the plantation. When Absalom was sixteen, Benjamin Wynkoop sold the plantation along with Absalom’s mother, sister, and five brothers. Benjamin Wynkoop opened a store in Philadelphia and brought Absalom with him where he joined St. Peter’s Church. In Philadelphia, Wynkoop permitted Absalom to attend a night school for black people that was operated by Quakers following the tradition established by abolitionist teacher Anthony Benezet.
As he grew into a young man and married, Absalom continued to work for the wages that eventually allowed him to purchase his wife’s freedom in 1784. He was finally granted manumission in 1784, after being denied, and continued to work for Wynkoop as a paid employee for a time.
The short version of his extensive biography (see link below for more) is that he became the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church in the US, he founded several churches, multiple organizations to aid freed and runaway slaves, and a Literary Circle.
His words in the quote above may sound trivial at first glance but, when measured against the institution of slavery, these words become profound and should reverberate within us all. On New Year’s Day in 1808, Jones said the following in his sermon giving thanksgiving for the passage of the Abolition of African Slave Trade Act by the US Congress:
Let not our expressions of gratitude to God for his … goodness and mercy to our countrymen be confined to this day, nor to this house: let us carry grateful hearts with us to our places of abode, and to our daily occupations; and let praise and thanksgivings ascend daily to the throne of grace, in our families, and in our closets, for what God has done for our African brethren.
His graciousness may be considered premature inasmuch as slavery itself was not abolished in the US for 55 more years. And so, as with those supporters of slavery then and now, we each will give the accounts of our own transactions while on this earthly plane. As for me, I ought to be too busy taking my own inventory to account for the transactions of others.
O Loving and Forgiving God, through the inspiration of Your true servant Absalom, we find the graciousness, joy, and reconciliation that should be the hallmarks of every Christian life. For today, I will give up counting up the faults of others and take on re-framing my thoughts from judgment to tolerance; my actions from thoughtless to reconciling. I will pray for the insight to acknowledge my own faults, the contrite heart to make amends, and the wisdom to stop and think first of my accounting to God before I act on my own. Amen.
*Click here for more information about the Rev. Absalom Jones, a biography by Arthur K. Sudler, The William Carl Bolivar Director, Historical Society & Archives, African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, from which some of the above biographical material was adapted.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Every week, Christina Brennan Lee writes the Prayers of the People we use in our worship services on Sundays. She also leads weekday prayer services and serves on the SsAM Vestry. Click here to see her People’s Prayers website.