Today we remember Alexander Crummell, priest, academic and nationalist turned abolitionist who left a lasting mark on churches in Washington, D.C.
Born in March 1819, he grew up in Upstate New York, where he felt the call to be a priest. Turned down for admittance to General Theological Seminary, he sought theological training elsewhere, and was ordained a priest in Massachusetts in 1842.
At first, he pursued nationalism – encouraging Blacks to return to Liberia to form a homeland. After 20 years of living in Liberia, he returned to the United States and focused on the fight to abolish slavery. His writings and preaching were a great influence on Marcus Garvey, Paul Laurence Dunbar and W.E. DuBois.
In 1872, he was called to Washington, D.C. to minister to St. Mary’s Mission in Foggy Bottom. He became known as a Missionary at Large to Black Episcopalians. Within a year, his congregation, and three Sunday schools, grew, and the idea of an independent Black church grew along with it. Funds were raised to create St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the first independent Black Episcopalian church. Created in 1875, it moved to the building it still occupies, on 15th St. NW, in 1876. The building was designated a historic landmark in 1976. Both St. Marys Foggy Bottom and St. Luke’s are active churches today.
Father Crummell served as St. Luke’s rector until his retirement in 1894. He died on September 10, 1898. One of the readings for his Feast Day is James 1: 2-5: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Good words for us to live with and by in this day and age.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington