Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City

Article excerpt

Faith in Their Own Color: Black Episcopalians in Antebellum New York City. By Craig T. Townsend. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005, Pp. vii, 241. $45.00.)

The very title of this book gives the reader a clear picture of what its thesis and goal are: to recapture the story of the struggles of blacks in antebellum New York City to carve out their "faith in their own [existential] color" while remaining within and loyal to the theology of the white Episcopal tradition. Struggles and theology are key words here for understanding the uniqueness and boldness of the author's approach. As Professor Randall Burkett of Emory University says in his back-cover blurb about the significance of this book, it is a "rare" and "fascinating" study. And, so it is.

But why is the book so unusual and captivating? Unlike most studies that commonly study only the material realities of antebellum and post- bellum black separations from white denominations and religious bodies, Craig T. Townsend's approach is to examine both the concrete realities and the religious ideas that helped spawn and energize African Americans to wrap white Episcopal theological confessions in the existential realities of being black in a land where even devout white Christians often held thoughts and engaged in practices that were anti-black. Townsend accomplishes his task by focusing on the history of the second-oldest black Episcopal church in America, St. Philip's Church in New York City. Daring to move away from the all-too-familiar filiopietistic celebration of Absalom Jones-the preeminent leader of the black walkouts from white Episcopal churches-Townsend concentrates on studying Peter Williams, Jr. and a small number of other heretofore largely unknown black New Yorkers who fought to reclothe Episcopalianism in "their own color" by making St. …

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