OUR MISSION

Our Mission is to provide tools and experiences that allow faith communities  and the larger community of individuals to engage in dismantling racism through education, prayer, dialogue, pilgrimage, and spiritual formation. 

 
 

Read A New Vision By Dr. Catherine Meeks


Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism is the name that we chose when we renamed our anti-racism commission. When our new Bishop, Robert Wright, met with us he asked that we consider a name change because there was so much negative reaction to the name that we had. After much conversation and reflection, we agreed upon the current name. This name actually embodies our vision. We are trying to help construct the beloved community and in order to do that, racism has to be dismantled. This change has generated much positive energy.

Along with this change, we made another very significant change regarding our trainings. We added the celebration of Holy Communion to each training session. Though the celebration at the table is never a small matter, this change has had a phenomenal impact upon the quality of response to the training. Even the reluctant participants who attend the required training seem to find themselves more able to engage the day's hard work than was true before we began starting the sessions in this way.

Further evidence of this new energy is reflected by the fact that we now have parishes inviting the training teams to their individual campuses for the sessions instead of trying to see if they can find ways to avoid the training altogether. There have been a few convocations who have organized a training session for all of the churches in their convocation. This is especially exciting to us because ultimately this work has to become an ongoing part of the work of the church and this is a small step in that direction.

Our commission has worked very diligently to form a broader vision of its work and while the work of dismantling racism is a long and arduous journey, we are seeing the fruit of our efforts though the harvest continues to be small. We have expanded the work to include facilitating our participation in the Jonathan Daniels and other Alabama Martyrs Pilgrimage in Alabama, discussions of books, film screenings and discussions, a repentance and reconciliation service, a new conversation on race discussion group and a conference on the theologian and spiritual activist Howard Thurman.

It is the intention of this commission to make it clear through all of its work that dismantling racism is a part of one's ongoing spiritual formation. The work is not finished when one leaves a training session or a particular event. It is the work of a lifetime just as all other spiritual formation work happens to be. This is a notion that is beginning to gain a bit of energy and it is heartening to our members to see that spark.

Though we are clear that we cannot do all that needs to be done, it is also clear that we can achieve far more than we have done in the past by pursuing collaborative partnerships with local parishes and convocations, reaching out to the national missioners for social justice and racial reconciliation, and clearly articulating our vision and needs to the bishop.

The support that has come from Bishop Wright is also quite heartening to us. He issued his first pastoral letter on the subject of racism and the need to dismantle it in support of the repentance and reconciliation service organized by the commission. This letter was either read or distributed by mail to all of the communicants in the Diocese of Atlanta. Some congregations are beginning to address this issue parish wide instead of just sending a few people to a required dismantling racism training session.

The recent events across our country make it clear that a new conversation on race is much needed and they should be enough to silence anyone who wants to argue that such conversation is no longer needed. While most of us wish that we
could move on to some of the other many social challenges facing us, race continues to be the text and the subtext of almost every other social challenge before us and will not allow us to put it aside.

Racism is an issue that has to be faced in a straight forward and courageous manner and what better place for this work to occur than in the church where we all have a commitment to someone larger than ourselves who can help us find the courage to travel on the road to racial healing and reconciliation.





OUR HISTORY

Almost two decades ago, the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta responded to the General Convention mandate to offer anti-racism training to all leaders by forming a commission to address racism. Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism sought to heal the chronic illness of racism in our faith community by creating awareness of its existence in our ongoing spiritual formation.

​By 2016, more than 1500 were touched by the Commission’s work. It was time to consider how to expand this important work to reach even more people. The Center for Racial Healing is the next step. It is where clergy, lay leaders, and community members can engage in a brave dialogue that leads to real and lasting change. Changed people can create change in our institutions, which in turn becomes change in our society.

The Center, which opened in October 2017, offers a model of prayerful education that forms and reforms individual and
collective action: a defined curriculum, thoughtful training, pilgrimages, and dialogue. Guided by faith and led by intention, the Center will continue its important work until our work is no longer needed. We seek the beloved community and the rewards of living life in that community - free of racism.

White Room

OUR LOGO

Logo Artwork by Melise Fathi
Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing

“The Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing is imagined as a brave space where there is enough courage to allow for racial healing and reconciliation to occur.” Within the sphere of this objective this logo is designed to honor and recognize the ones who have embarked on this journey thus far as well as inspire and encourage those who will set out on the journey through participation and leadership in this sacred and important work.

This logo integrates and combines African symbols from West Africa known as Adinkra. These are visual symbols created by the Ashanti of Ghana and the Gyaman of Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa. The two symbols are Woforo Dua PA A and Mpatapo. In their meanings we may interpret the embodiment of the vision, mission, and goals of this center.

Woforo Dua PA A is the symbol of support, cooperation and encouragement. This is taken from the expression “Woforo dua pa a, na yepia wo”, meaning “When you climb a good tree you are given a push.” This expression promises that if you work for a good cause you will get support. The second symbol incorporated into the logo is Mpatapo, or “the knot of pacification and reconciliation.” This symbol embodies reconciliation and peacemaking after strife. Those who may find themselves in dispute are united and bound together in peace, harmony and reconciliation. The logo features Mpatapo at the center as in our reconciliation and peace surrounded and supported by Woforo Dua PA A. Our vision and goals of the center through the work of dismantling systemic racism and personal prejudice is embraced and surrounded by the support, encouragement and cooperation of those who seek and foster racial healing.

Along with designs and symbols, color may also convey symbolism and meaning. The colors of Kente cloth, a colorful woven cloth of South Ghana may be utilized. In Kente cloth maroon represents Mother Earth and healing; green represents spiritual growth and renewal. Blue represents peace, togetherness and harmony. This logo is designed with the mission, goals, and vision of the center as its inspiration and hope.

logo.png
 

OUR LEADERSHIP

Catherine Meeks, PhD, is Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing. Prior to the center's opening she chaired its precursor, Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism for the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. A sought-after teacher and workshop leader, Catherine brings four decades of experience to the work of transforming the dismantling racism work in Atlanta. The core of her work has been with people who have been marginalized because of economic status, race, gender or physical ability as they pursue liberation, justice and access to resources that can help lead them to health, wellness and a more abundant life. This work grows out of her understanding of her call to the vocation of teacher as well as her realization that all of humanity is one family which God desires to unite.

Catherine is the retired Clara Carter Acree Distinguished Professor of Socio-Cultural Studies from Wesleyan College and Founding Executive Director of the Lane Center for Community Engagement and Service. She characterizes herself as a midwife to the soul of her students and workshop participants. She has spent many years sharing the insights that she gained from her pursuit of the truth. She has had many great teachers including her sons, the Bible, Jungian psychology, cross cultural stories and other books of wisdom.  But her greatest teacher is rheumatoid arthritis because it has forced her to learn many new ways to listen to her body and to pay attention to the messages from her heart.  She is frequently asked to present commentaries on Georgia Public Radio and other radio and television programs. She is the author of six books and one inspirational CD and is the editor of the bestselling book, Living Into God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America and co-author of Passionate for Justice: Ida B Wells as Prophet for Our Times. She holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Clark Atlanta University and PhD from Emory University.

Connect with 

Dr. Catherine Meeks

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Spotify
  • Instagram

The Rev. Dr. Ken Swanson, Ph.D., Chair

Sheryl H. Bowen || Peggy Courtright, J.D. || Clint Deveaux

 Judy Fielder, CNM || LaFawn Gilliam || Rev. Dr. Simon Mainwaring || The Rt. Rev. Brian N. Prior 

The Rev. Julia Rusling || The Ven. Juan Sandoval || Malinda Shamburger

The Rev. Fabio Sotelo || Ken Stewart

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

 

OUR TEAM

Sandra Tarver

Administrative Coordinator 

Dominique Hardy

Program Manager

Chelsi Glascoe

Marketing 

Coordinator

The Rev.

Donna Mote, PhD

Coordinator of Reimagining Policing and Public Safety Project 

 

Absalom Jones: Founder of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas 1746-1818


By Arthur K. Sudler
William Carl Bolivar Director
Historical Society & Archives
African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas

Absalom Jones was born enslaved to Abraham Wynkoop a wealthy Anglican planter in 1746 in Delaware. He was working in the fields when Abraham recognized that he was an intelligent child and ordered that he be trained to work in the house. Absalom eagerly accepted instruction in reading. He also saved 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 and Absalom’s mother, sister, and five brothers. Wynkoop brought Absalom to Philadelphia where he opened a store and joined St. Peter’s Church. In Philadelphia Benjamin 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.

At twenty, with the permission of their masters, Absalom married Mary Thomas who was enslaved to Sarah King who also worshipped at St. Peter’s. The Rev. Jacob Duche performed the wedding at Christ Church. Absalom and his father-in-law, John Thomas, used their savings, and sought donations and loans primarily from prominent Quakers, in order to purchase Mary’s freedom. Absalom and Mary worked very hard to repay the money borrowed to buy her freedom. They saved enough money to buy property and to buy Absalom’s freedom. Although he repeatedly asked Benjamin Wynkoop to allow him to buy his freedom Wynkoop refused. Absalom persisted because as long as he was enslaved Wynkoop could take his property and his money. Finally, in 1784 Benjamin Wynkoop freed Absalom by granting him a manumission. Absalom continued to work in Wynkoop’s store as a paid employee.

Absalom left St. Peter’s Church and began worshipping at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church. He met Richard Allen who had been engaged to preach at St. George’s and the two became lifelong friends, Together, in 1787, they founded the Free African Society a mutual aid benevolent organization that was the first of its kind organized by and for black people. Members of the Society paid monthly dues for the benefit of those in need. At St George’s, Absalom and Richard served as lay ministers for the black membership. The active evangelism of Jones and Allen, greatly increased black membership at St George’s. The black members worked hard to help raise money to build an upstairs gallery intended to enlarge the church. The church leadership decided to segregate the black worshippers in the gallery, without notifying them. During a Sunday morning service a dispute arose over the seats black members had been instructed to take in the gallery and ushers attempted to physically remove them by first accosting Absalom Jones. Most of the black members present indignantly walked out of St. George’s in a body.

Prior to the incident at St. George’s the Free African Society had initiated religious services. Some of these services were presided over by The Rev. Joseph Pilmore an assistant St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The Society established communication with similar black groups in other cities. In 1792 the Society began to build the African Church of Philadelphia. The church membership took a denominational vote and decided to affiliate with the Episcopal Church. Richard Allen withdrew from the effort as he favored affiliation with the Methodist Church. Absalom Jones was asked to provide pastoral leadership and after prayer and reflection he accepted the call.

The African Church was dedicated on July 17, 1794. The Rev. Dr. Samuel Magaw, rector St. Paul’s Church, preached the dedicatory address. Dr. Magaw was assisted at the service by The Rev. James Abercrombie, assistant minister at Christ Church. Soon thereafter the congregation applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on the following conditions: 1) that they be received as an organized body; 2) that they have control over their own local affairs; 3) that Absalom Jones be licensed as layreader, and, if qualified, be ordained as minister. In October 1794 it was admitted as the African Episcopal Church of St Thomas. The church was incorporated under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1796. Bishop William White ordained Jones as deacon in 1795 and as priest on September 21, 1802.

Jones was an earnest preacher. He denounced slavery, and warned the oppressors to “clean their hands of slaves.” To him, God was the Father, who always acted on “behalf of the oppressed and distressed.” But it was his constant visiting and mild manner that made him beloved by his congregation and by the community. St Thomas Church grew to over 500 members during its first year. The congregants formed a day school and were active in moral uplift, self-empowerment, and anti-slavery activities. Known as “the Black Bishop of the Episcopal Church,” Jones was an example of persistent faith in God and in the Church as God’s instrument. Jones died on this day in 1818.​
The following narrative is copied from the original manuscript written by himself:
Absalom’s autobiographical sketch from Douglass’ Annals (1862):

“I, Absalom Jones was born in Sussex,” DEL., “on the 6th of November, 1746. I was small, when my master took me from the field to wait and attend on him in the house; and being very fond of learning, I was careful to save the pennies that were given to me by the ladies and gentlemen from time to time. I soon bought myself a primer, and begged to be taught by any body that I found able and willing to give me the least instruction. Soon after this, I was able to purchase a spelling book; for as my money increased, I supplied myself with books, among others, a Testament. For, fondness for books, gave me little or no time for the amusements that took up the leisure hours of my companions. By this course I became singular, and escaped many evils, and also saved my money.

In the year 1762, my mother, five brothers and a sister were sold, and I was brought to the city of Philadelphia with my master. My employment in this city was to wait in the store, pack up and carry out goods. In this situation, I had an opportunity, with the clerk, to get copies set for me; so that I was soon able to write to my mother and brothers, with my own hand. My spelling is bad for want of proper schooling.
In the year 1766, I asked my master the liberty of going one quarter to night-school, which he granted. I had a great desire to learn Arithmetic. In that quarter I learned Addition, Troy weight, Subtraction, Apothecaries’ weight, Practical multiplication, Practical Division, and Reduction.

In the year 1770, I married a wife who was a slave. I soon after proposed to purchase her freedom. To this her mistress agreed, for the sum of forty pounds. Not having the money in hand, I got an appeal drawn, and John Thomas, my father-in-law, and I called upon some of the principal Friends of this city. From some we borrowed, and from other we received donations. In this way we soon raised thirty pounds of the money, her mistress, Sarah King, forgiving the balance of ten pounds. By this time, my master’s family was increased, and I was much hurried in my servitude. However, I took a house, and for seven years, made it my business to work until twelve or one o’clock at night, to assist my wife in obtaining a livelihood, and to pay the money that was borrowed to purchase her freedom.

This being fully accomplished, and having a little money in hand, I made application to my master, in the year 1778, to purchase my own freedom; but, as this was not granted, I fortunately met with a small house and lot of ground, to be sold for one hundred and fifty pounds, continental money. Having laid by some hard money, I sold it for continental and purchased the lot. My desire for freedom increased, as I knew that while I was a slave, my house and lot might be taken as the property of my master. This induced me to make many applications to him for liberty to purchase my freedom; and on the first of October, 1784, he generously gave me a manumission. I have ever since continued in his service at good wages, and I still find it my duty, both late and early, to be industrious to improve the little estate that a kind Providence has put in my hands.
Since my freedom, I have built a couple of small houses on the small lot, which now let for twenty-two pounds a year.”


*Annals of the first African church, in the United States of America: now styled the African Episcopal church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia, in its connection with the early struggles of the colored people to improve their condition, with the co-operation of the Friends, and other philanthropists; partly derived from the minutes of a beneficial society, established by Absalom Jones, Richard Allen and others, in 1787, and partly from the minutes of the aforesaid church
William Douglass
January 1, 1862
King & Baird, printers




Read Absalom Jones Autobiographical Sketch


The following narrative is copied from the original manuscript written by himself:
Absalom’s autobiographical sketch from Douglass’ Annals (1862):

“I, Absalom Jones was born in Sussex,” DEL., “on the 6th of November, 1746. I was small, when my master took me from the field to wait and attend on him in the house; and being very fond of learning, I was careful to save the pennies that were given to me by the ladies and gentlemen from time to time. I soon bought myself a primer, and begged to be taught by any body that I found able and willing to give me the least instruction. Soon after this, I was able to purchase a spelling book; for as my money increased, I supplied myself with books, among others, a Testament. For, fondness for books, gave me little or no time for the amusements that took up the leisure hours of my companions. By this course I became singular, and escaped many evils, and also saved my money.

In the year 1762, my mother, five brothers and a sister were sold, and I was brought to the city of Philadelphia with my master. My employment in this city was to wait in the store, pack up and carry out goods. In this situation, I had an opportunity, with the clerk, to get copies set for me; so that I was soon able to write to my mother and brothers, with my own hand. My spelling is bad for want of proper schooling.
In the year 1766, I asked my master the liberty of going one quarter to night-school, which he granted. I had a great desire to learn Arithmetic. In that quarter I learned Addition, Troy weight, Subtraction, Apothecaries’ weight, Practical multiplication, Practical Division, and Reduction.

In the year 1770, I married a wife who was a slave. I soon after proposed to purchase her freedom. To this her mistress agreed, for the sum of forty pounds. Not having the money in hand, I got an appeal drawn, and John Thomas, my father-in-law, and I called upon some of the principal Friends of this city. From some we borrowed, and from other we received donations. In this way we soon raised thirty pounds of the money, her mistress, Sarah King, forgiving the balance of ten pounds. By this time, my master’s family was increased, and I was much hurried in my servitude. However, I took a house, and for seven years, made it my business to work until twelve or one o’clock at night, to assist my wife in obtaining a livelihood, and to pay the money that was borrowed to purchase her freedom.

This being fully accomplished, and having a little money in hand, I made application to my master, in the year 1778, to purchase my own freedom; but, as this was not granted, I fortunately met with a small house and lot of ground, to be sold for one hundred and fifty pounds, continental money. Having laid by some hard money, I sold it for continental and purchased the lot. My desire for freedom increased, as I knew that while I was a slave, my house and lot might be taken as the property of my master. This induced me to make many applications to him for liberty to purchase my freedom; and on the first of October, 1784, he generously gave me a manumission. I have ever since continued in his service at good wages, and I still find it my duty, both late and early, to be industrious to improve the little estate that a kind Providence has put in my hands.
Since my freedom, I have built a couple of small houses on the small lot, which now let for twenty-two pounds a year.”


*Annals of the first African church, in the United States of America: now styled the African Episcopal church of St. Thomas, Philadelphia, in its connection with the early struggles of the colored people to improve their condition, with the co-operation of the Friends, and other philanthropists; partly derived from the minutes of a beneficial society, established by Absalom Jones, Richard Allen and others, in 1787, and partly from the minutes of the aforesaid church
William Douglass
January 1, 1862
King & Baird, printers





MEET

ABSALOM JONES