*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 24th of November 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
The 24th of November is a day set aside by the Lutheran Church to remember the history of that church body in North America. On the 24th of November in 1703, Justus Falckner was ordained in the Old Swedes Church in Pennsylvania, becoming the first ordained Lutheran minister in North America (we’ve told his story on the show before). On account of this memorial, the Lutheran Church calendar of saints recognizes its North American founders on this day. In doing so, the church remembers an often overlooked pioneer who happened to intersect with several 19th-century historical currents but never picked up into the mainstream of any of them.
His name was Jehu Jones Jr., and he was the first African American ordained in the Lutheran Church in America in 1832
Jones's father, Jehu Sr, was a slave in South Carolina who purchased his freedom in 1798. Jr would follow in his father's footsteps as a tailor and Episcopalian. In the 1820s, Jehu Jr left his father's Episcopalian church and profession to join the Lutheran Church. I wish we knew more of what caused him to leave one church body for another. Still, it is worth noting that there was a Lutheran presence in South Carolina since the days of Muehlenberg (the patriarch of American Lutheranism). Muehlenberg was waylaid in South Carolina to Pennsylvania and established a congregation while he waited to travel north. Jehu Jones Jr found his way from the Episcopal church to the “Lutheran Church of German Protestants.” In the radically segregated south, this church allowed African Americans to join, albeit they had their pews in the back of the church. Jones decided to seek ordination in the Lutheran Church to minister to African Americans.
It was decided that he could be ordained in the North and then sent as a missionary to Liberia.
[The story of Liberia is one for another time, but it serves as a reminder that many in the early Republic didn’t believe that a multi-racial society was possible, and with many slaves being recently taken from Africa, there were plans to repatriate them]
After ordination, Jones returned to South Carolina to join a group of missionaries and former slaves on a ship to Africa. However, in light of a few slave uprisings, new laws were passed to keep free blacks out of the south, where they were seen as agitators. Jones was arrested, and while he was let go, it was too late for him to join his party. Jones instead moved to Philadelphia to work as an urban missionary in the biggest city in America.
The story of his ministry in Philadelphia is relatively unremarkable, save for several financial struggles. Jones had several white allies in the Lutheran Church who pledged to help him and his fledgling congregation. Still, when creditors came calling, very few gave him financial support. His congregation, the first African American Lutheran congregation in America, existed for five years, from 1834 to 1839.
I know it’s not always exciting to talk about church property. Still, if you ask anyone in church work if they’ve ever had existential issues regarding the physical building, lenders, donors, etc.… you would likely hear harrowing stories about ministries and churches that almost weren’t.
St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Philadelphia was started on a loan for around 1,000 dollars. Still, the church could never stay afloat despite promises from the local synod and Jones forfeiting half of his salary. The church closed, but Jones was active in the community until he died in 1852.
Today we remember Jehu Jones, Jr- the first African American Lutheran pastor in America.
The last word for today comes from 1 John:
4 Little children, I write to you because you know the Father. Parents, I am writing to you because you have known the one who has existed from the beginning. Young people, I write to you because you are strong, the word of God remains in you, and you have conquered the evil one.
The Christian History Almanac for the 24th of November 2021 was brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Jehu’s include Jones Jr, gymnast Steve Jehu, and 90s post-punk band “Drive like Jehu.” He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man with a lot of thoughts about Drive Like Jehu and the development of Emo music… Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.