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Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit; and, as you know our weakness, so may we know your power to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

 – Collect for Lent I, Common Worship.

We are in our first official week of Lent 2017. This year for Lent, in addition to the traditional rituals (praying, fasting, etc), I’m participating in Lent Madness. It is a tournament of saints in which the winner is crowned with the “Golden Halo.” The winning participant not only learns about saints that are often looked over in the Church, but will have bragging rights in their local church should they be successful. I’ve completed my bracket and I’m doing pretty good. Suffered 1 early loss, but it happens.

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However, I was able to learn about a man who impacted the Church and the southern part of the United States. That man is Bishop Henry Beard Delany.

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Bp. Delany is the second Black Bishop in the Episcopal Church. He served as Suffragan in the Diocese of North Carolina (1918-1928). He also served as Chaplain at the historical St. Augustine’s College (now university) in North Carolina. He was instrumental in retaining Blacks in the Episcopal Church despite the segregationist posture the Church took post-American Civil War and during Jim Crow.

In all honesty, I am very much conflicted with Bishop Delany. On the one hand, he provided a refuge for Black Episcopalians by being instrumental in the creation of separate Black churches, religious facilities and ecclesiastical structure while remaining a member of the Episcopal Church. However, some of his contemporaries took the bold step and left the Episcopal Church and joined other communions, primarily the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, in order to model that Blacks should not be treated as second class citizens within their own religious communities.

It is the same situation that occurred between Bishop Richard Allen and Fr. Absalom Jones after their departure from the Methodist Church. Bishop Allen went on to establish the A.M.E. Church, the nation’s first denomination to be founded by people of African descent. Fr. Jones went on to establish the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Pennsylvania, and became the Episcopal Church’s (and the nation’s) first ever Black priest in 1804.*

I encourage you to use this Lenten season to reflect, pray, and grow in your relationship with God. Fasting is great but it’s not enough. Often enough, learning about the lives of those before us can inspire us to dive deeper in our spiritual lives.

– JMH+

*Fr. Augustus Tolton of the Roman Catholic Church was ordained a priest in 1886. Bishop James Healy, of the Roman Catholic Church was ordained in 1854, and self identified as Irish-American despite being biracial.