17 Rectors of
The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas

Founder & First Rector (1802 – 1818)

Absalom Jones was born into slavery in Sussex County. Delaware on November 6, 1746. He became one of the foremost leaders among persons of African descent during the post-revolution period in 1887. He and Richard Allen organized the Free African Society, a social political and humanitarian organization helping widows, orphans and assisting in sick relief and burial expenses. He was lay preacher at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church until racial tension led to the historic walkout. In 1792, under dual leadership with Allen, the African Church was organized as a direct outgrowth of the Free African Society. The African Church became the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas with Absalom Jones as its Lay Reader and Deacon. In 1802, he was ordained by Bishop William White as the first African American Episcopal priest. He was known for his pastoral care and attention to the needs of the community. In 1797, he was installed as First Worshipful Master and elected the First Grand Master of the First African Grand Lodge of PA in 1815. His ministry was based on the principles of freedom, justice, self-determination and benevolence. more information...

Second Rector (1834 – 1862)

In 1834, William Douglass of Baltimore, MD answered the call to St. Thomas. He was a minister of the A.M.E Church proficient in Latin. Greek and Hebrew and prominent in his community. He was ordained deacon by Bishop Stone of Maryland and Episcopal priest by Bishop H.U. Underdonk in Philadelphia. He was more intellectual than activist. He traveled widely during his tenure at St. Thomas and wrote letters back to the Vestry and congregation encouraging piety and spiritual growth. He published several books, the most notable, The Annals of the First African Church in the United States of America, which details the history of the Free African Society and founding and growth of St. Thomas Church. He served as Rector until his death in 1862.

Third Rector (1863 – 1872)

James Alston was born in Warrenton, North Carolina. He served an apprenticeship as a merchant tailor in Raleigh, N.C. until he decided to study theology for the Episcopal ministry. Reverend Alston graduated from Oberlin College in 1855. He first served as assistant rector to the Reverend Peter Williams, founding rector of St. Phillips in New York City before coming to the African Church of St. Thomas at 5th and Adelphi Streets. In 1870, Reverend Alston preached the sermon at St. Thomas that was a part of the Philadelphia celebration of the ratification of the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, giving African Americans the right to vote. Reverend Alston returned to St. Phillips to become its second rector where he remained until his death.

Fourth Rector (1882 – 1891)

The Reverend Williams was baptized and confirmed at St. Thomas Church on 5th and Adelphi Streets. He graduated from the Philadelphia Divinity School in 1881. In 1882, he was made Deacon and ordained priest by Bishop Stevens in 1883. He served St. Thomas for 10 years. From 1887 to 1890, he facilitated the building of the new site at 12th and Walnut Streets. In 1892, he was called to be rector of St. Augustine Church in Brooklyn, NY. Williams died at the age to 50 in 1901.

Fifth Rector (1893 – 1896)

Owen Meredith Waller was the second rector to serve at St. Thomas‘ 12th and Walnut Street site. He graduated from Oxford University, England in 1887 and from the Theological Seminary in New York in 1892. He was ordained in 1893 by Bishop Potter. Reverend Waller’s short service to St. Thomas was followed by fruitful service to St. Luke’s, Washington, D.C. from 1896 to 1905. Following the path of community-mindedness established by his forbears, the Reverend Doctor Waller was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Sixth Rector (1897 – 1901)

Edward Giles Knight was born in Salem, N.J. He prepared for the ministry at Crozier Theological Seminary, Chester, PA. He was made deacon in the Episcopal Church by the Rt. Reverend John Paddock of Olympia and ordained priest by Bishop Ozi Whitaker of Pennsylvania. He served as rector of St. Thomas from 1897 to 1901. During this period, the Sunday School grew in numbers. Reverend Knight was very interested in the music of the church and promoted the use of paid soloists. He also attempted to stabilize the finances of the church, speaking from the pulpit on the financial responsibility of the congregation. After leaving St. Thomas, he served as Rector of the Church of the Incarnation in Drexel Hill, PA until his death in 1935.

Seventh Rector (1902 1905)

George Alexander McGuire was born in Sweets, Antigua and educated in the local Mico College for teachers and at the Moravian Miskey Seminary in the Danish West Indies. He pastored in the West Indies, immigrated to the United States and was ordained as Episcopal deacon in 1896. He was ordained a priest the next year by the Bishop of Southern Ohio. He served in Cincinnati, OH, then at St. Phillips in Virginia and St. Thomas African Church in Philadelphia.

Eighth Rector (1906 – 1912)

Reverend Cartier was ordained deacon in 1894 and Episcopal priest in 1895 by Bishop Wuintard of Nashville, TN. He initially served in Denver, CO, coming to St. Thomas as Rector in 1906. His was a tranquil period during which many young adults were attracted to St. Thomas. He emphasized the importance of rituals of the church and personally instructed the Acolytes in the significance and execution of their duties. He is said to have been well-loved by all.

Ninth Rector (1912 – 1914)

Henry L. Phillips was born in Jamaica, West Indies in 1847. He was ordained as Episcopal priest in Philadelphia by Bishop William Bacon Stevens in 1875. He began his ministry at the Crucifixion Mission on South 8th Street. It became one of the leading churches in the nation for its social programs, which included the creation of the first penny savings bank for Negroes in the United States; the expansion and growth of the Home for the Homeless, the only facility of its kind in the city for destitute women and children of both races and the first Philadelphia gymnasium for Blacks out of which grew the Christian Street YMCA. Phillips served as rector of St. Thomas from 1912 – 1914 and was later appointed Archdeacon for Colored Work for the Episcopal Diocese of PA. He celebrated his 100th birthday in March 1947.

Tenth Rector (1914 – 1918)

Reverend Emmanuel Hendricks was born in St. Croix and ministered in Ponce, Puerto Rico. He was ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church by Bishop Greer in 1911. In 1912, he was ordained Episcopal priest. He served as Rector at St. Thomas, 12th and Walnut Streets for four years amidst turmoil within the congregation. He is described as exceptionally well educated and a person of impressive bearing. After leaving St. Thomas in 1918, he served at the request of the Bishop as an Urban Missioner.

Eleventh Rector (1919 – 1926)

The Reverend Garrett registered in the “old” Washington Province, which included Pennsylvania, came into ordained ministry as a deacon by Bishop Rhineland. He was ordained priest in January 1912 by Bishop Garland. From 1919 through 1927, he served St. Thomas church as its rector.

Twelfth Rector (1926 – 1931)

James Nelson Deaver was reared in St. James Episcopal Church, Baltimore, MD. After graduating high school he attended Pinn Hall Seminary in Washington, D.C. In May 1989, he was made a deacon and was ordained in the priesthood by Bishop Peterkin, November 11th the same year. Reverend Deaver was known as a self-made man with an “endurance to hardness” that enabled him, with his wife and children to serve in the “backwoods of Maryland”, Ocala, FL and West Virginia before coming to St. Thomas at 12th and Walnut Streets. No doubt that St. Thomas congregation called on his strength as the nation entered the era of the Great Depression.

Thirteenth Rector (1933 – 1943)

Robert Bagnall was born in Norfolk, VA and studied at Bishop Payne Divinity School. He was ordained a priest in 1903. Bagnall served as a rector of St. Matthew P.E. Church in Detroit. He was Dean of the School of Religious Education for Colored People from 1921 to 1933, and left the post to become Rector of St. Thomas Church at 12th and Walnut Streets. Bagnall was a leader in civil rights, active as an NAACP district organizer. As rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Reverend Bagnall revitalized a discouraged congregation and enabled the merger with The Church of the Beloved Disciple in West Philadelphia. Under Reverend Bagnall’s leadership, the church purchased and moved to the 52nd and Parrish Streets site. He served as rector until his death in 1943.

Fourteenth Rector (1944 – 1975)

Jesse F. Anderson, Sr. was born in Plainfield, NJ. He graduated from General Theological seminary and was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1936. He served at St. Phillip’s in New York and Michigan, and St. Matthews in Wilmington, DE. Reverend Anderson, Sr. was active in the cause for recognition of Black Episcopalian leadership, serving as National President of the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity and as the first president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians. St. Matthew’s in Wilmington, DE. He was also an influential leader of the Civil Rights Movement in Philadelphia. He arrived at St. Thomas Church, Philadelphia in 1944 and transformed the congregation into a “church of the people.” There was significant growth in the number of parishioners under his leadership. He served as rector of St. Thomas for 31 years, until his death in 1975.

Fifteenth Rector (1976 – 1990)

Robert Earl DuBose was born in Birmingham, AL. he graduated from St. Augustine’s College and Seabury Western Theological Seminary. He was made deacon and ordained a priest in 1953. The reverend DuBose married Angela Edward and they have five children. He first served as Episcopal Chaplain at St. Andrew’s Tuskegee Institute, AL. Reverend DuBose participated in protest with the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in Montgomery before coming to St. Thomas in 1961 as a curate. His community service flourished as a charter member of the Board of Directors at Opportunities Industrialization Center of American founded by Reverend Leon Sullivan. He served various churches in Philadelphia before his installation as rector of St. Thomas in 1976 where among many other invaluable ministries, he formed the St. Thomas Historical Society.

Sixteenth Rector (1991 – 2001)

Jesse F. Anderson, Jr. was born in New York City and reared and educated in Philadelphia. He graduated from Lincoln University and the General Theological Seminary. He was ordained into the priesthood in 1961. Reverend Anderson served parishes in the Diocese of Washington, D.C. and Connecticut before returning to Philadelphia in 1991 to become the 16th rector of St. Thomas where his father served at 14th rector. Reverend Anderson served as President of the Union of Black Episcopalians, and the Convener of the Black Clergy in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. He moved the congregation from the 52nd and Parrish Streets site to its current location. He renewed the parish with the incorporation of his Liberation Mass into the liturgy. Afro-centric depiction of Christ and the formation of the St. Thomas Gospel Choir.

Seventeenth Rector (2003 – Present)

Martini Shaw was born in Detroit, MI. He studied at Wayne State University, initially intending to become a medical doctor. He earned undergraduate degrees in psychology and biology. In 1988, he earned a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as Episcopal priest. He became rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Chicago in 1990. Father Shaw served at St. Thomas in Chicago for 13 years, where his long list of accomplishments extends far into the civic arena. In 2003, he became the 17th rector of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas and immediately went to work expanding and continuing the momentum of the Church’s mission. Father Shaw’s vision of spiritual growth and community involvement recalls the legacy of our founders and promises as a continuance of outstanding St. Thomas leadership. In 2008, he was awarded the Doctor of Ministry Degree from the Graduate Theological Foundation (coursework from the University of Oxford, Oxford England). Among his proud accomplishments was the establishment and total restoration of the Absalom Jones House - adjacent to the church - in 2009, which houses administrative offices, ministry program space, as well as, state of the art facilities for filing/exhibition of historical records and artifacts of the parish. more information...

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