We are doing our annual celebration to honor Absalom Jones, who was the first African American Episcopal priest. He and his friend Richard Allen were at a church where they had gathered a number of African American members of a congregation. At first they were welcomed but I think people started to get uncomfortable with the number of people. One Sunday morning as they were praying, the ushers told them they had to leave, and so they walked out and they became members of the Free African Society in Philadelphia, and out of that an Episcopal church was organized. Richard Allen went on to start the African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was some years later that Absalom Jones was able to be ordained as a priest, and many years after that, that his congregation was accepted into the diocese.
In February of each year, we have a celebration to honor him, and that is an occasion for educating the people of the diocese about matters that have to do with race in general, and in the church. This year, our theme is Seeking Christ in All People Through the Arts, and what we’re looking at is how is God presented to people? How are the saints and the leaders of the church presented to people? Does everybody have the opportunity to seek somebody like themselves?
If God is portrayed as somebody that doesn’t look like you, this does have an impact on people. We would like to highlight portrayals of God, and of Jesus, and of the saints, the angels and holy beings, and leaders of the church, as people of color that everybody who might not be white could identify with. We’re going to have several workshops, one of them will be singing of spirituals, one would be the liturgical dance, one would be drumming, and the fourth one is visual arts.
When you walk into a church, what is the first thing that you notice? What is the first thing you hear? What is the first thing you see? This is the biggest influence on a person going to church. We’re trying to challenge our perspective on art in our religion, and on our image of God, to better represent what not only a congregation is, but what our community of faith is.
We’re going to give people an opportunity to experience the arts in several workshops, and to try to understand how art from other cultures might be presented, and might be used in worship.