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Knowing our History: Blessed Henry Beard Delany

During our Sunday forum hour this past week, we welcomed the Rev. Kathy Walker, Missioner for Black Ministries in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. In a wide-ranging conversation, she laid out the legacy of the historically-Black churches of our Diocese—a story of struggle and resilience in the face of adversity.

One of the people who features prominently in that history is Blessed Henry Beard Delany (1858-1928), now honored as a saint in our Episcopal tradition. Born into slavery in Georgia, Delany’s family fled to Florida to come under the protection of the advancing Union Army. He went on to be educated at St. Augustine’s School in Raleigh, where he later served as instructor and vice principal. While there, he also undertook theological studies in preparation for the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. His church vocation was as varied as any, serving as church planter, chaplain, Archdeacon for Colored Work, and Bishop Suffragan of the same in the Diocese of North Carolina.

A man of many talents, he also oversaw the masonry students who built St. Augustine’s Chapel from the ground up. (He had been apprenticed as a mason in his youth.) Due in large part to his tireless efforts, St. Augustine’s would go on to become the foundation for generations of Black leadership in the Episcopal Church, training Black clergy in a time when their role in the Church was as segregated as the society within which they lived.

This is but one brief portrait of the legacy of Black leadership in our Diocese. For more, I invite you to check out these short sketches of historically-Black congregations in the Diocese of North Carolina.

Knowing our past is essential to the task of understanding our present. I invite you into the patient, humble work of listening to these stories. Each of them shines a light, not just on the work of saints gone by, but on the kind of vision needed to help us become agents of God’s peace and justice now.

—Fr. Javier

Additional Resources:

Short Sketches of Historically Black Episcopal Churches in North Carolina, compiled by Lynn Hoke, Archivist, Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina

His Rightful Place in History: A Portrait of Bishop Henry Beard Delany, by the Rev. Dr. N. Brooks Graebner, Historiographer, Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina