African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas
The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas was founded in 1792 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as the first black Episcopal Church in the United States. Its congregation developed from the Free African Society, a non-denominational group formed by blacks who had left St. George's Methodist Church because of discrimination. They were led by Absalom Jones, a free black and lay Methodist preacher. As his congregation became established, he was later ordained in 1804 as the first black priest in the Episcopal Church. The congregation was part of the Episcopal diocese of Philadelphia. St. Thomas became a leading institution in Philadelphia's black cultural life.
While the congregation has worshipped in several different buildings, it has remained continuously active since its founding. The site of the original building, dedicated on July 17, 1794 at Fifth and Adelphi streets, is now covered by the passageway/plaza known as St. James Place. Other locations included Twelfth Street south of Walnut Street, and 57th and Pearl streets, and 52nd and Parrish streets, both in West Philadelphia. Following changing demographics, the congregation moved out of the downtown area, and in the 21st century occupies a church at the intersection of Overbrook and Lancaster avenues in Philadelphia's Overbrook Farms neighborhood. Clergy and parishioners were active in abolitionism and the Underground Railroad in the 19th century. In the mid to late 20th century, they participated in the modern Civil Rights Movement.
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