Photo credit: Kaz Tsuruto





Relics of the first African American deaconess unite congregations from California and Georgia as sister churches

 For Immediate Release

04 October 2019

Contact:  The Rev. Jill Honodel   (925) 435-9396

Antioch, California – On Sunday, October 6, 2019, cousins Zora Nobles and Dwala Nobles, members of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Brunswick, Georgia, will present the tattered buckram-covered 1892 version of the Book of Common Prayer once owned by the first African American deaconess in the Episcopal Church, Anna Ellison Butler Alexander, at the first church named in her honor, St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in Antioch.

The book was used to teach the children of the formerly enslaved to read during the social disorder following the Emancipation Proclamation.

The service will be live-streamed on the church’s Facebook Page (Saint Anna’s) on Sunday, October 6th at 10 a.m. PST, 7 a.m. EDT.

Invited to the first Feast Day of Saint Anna celebration at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church in Antioch are three African American female deacons from the Diocese of California. The Rev. Jennifer Nelson, the co-chair of the Vivian Traylor Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians, will preach. The Rev. Doe Yates, the first and only African American deacon to serve at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, and The Rev. Alberta Brown Buller of Christ Episcopal Church, Sausalito.

Anna Ellison Butler Alexander whose parents had been enslaved on Butler Island in Georgia directly influenced the trajectory of the Nobles family by educating their father and uncles and later giving them pertinent advice, such as buying property hidden from sight.

The Church of the Good Shepherd in Brunswick, Georgia, founded by Deaconess Alexander as both a schoolhouse as well as a church and of which the Nobles are members, celebrated its 125th anniversary on the Sunday prior to her September 24 Feast Day where 100 people were in attendance, including members of the saint’s family. The Church of the Good Shepherd envisions restoring St. Anna’s schoolhouse to be used as a reconciliation center. The Rev. Jabriel Ballentine (Racial Heresy podcast) encouraged the congregation in his sermon and in the workshop he led following the service.

Dwala and Zora Nobles plan to lead the procession of oblation bearers carrying St. Anna’s 19th century Book of Common Prayer to the altar where they will hand the fragile prayer book to Rev. Buller to place on the altar during the Eucharist. The Rev. Jill Honodel who has been guiding the congregation in the formation of Saint Anna’s said, Every time I tell people to imagine what it will be like for us to experience Dwala and Zora carrying Saint Anna’s Book of Common Prayer and handing it to Alberta, we get tears in our eyes. Saint Anna’s spirit is going to walk through our front doors, up the aisle and right to our altar. She is imbuing our church with her spirit.

Dwala Nobles said, “It is our hope and prayer that Saint Anna Alexander’s light will illuminate and guide the path of all who believe in the power of service – unconditional service.  The Good Shepherd Episcopal community in Brunswick, GA where Anna began her service, is honored to now join with Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church to share and speak with one voice as we continue to commemorate her life and legacy.  We are using the model of beloved community that Saint Anna created 100 years ago to extend our community, which now includes the congregants of Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church in Antioch.

The Rev. Jill Honodel said, our congregation is excited to meet Dwala and Zora Nobles, the bond is already there; and we are elated that they are going to imbue our church in California with the Spirit of Saint Anna by bringing her relics to us.  We will most certainly forge a lasting relationship and partner with The Church of the Good Shepherd in reconciliation in the years to come.  I’ve taken pause in recent weeks to reflect upon my ministry over the past 20 years. I imagine as I look back on this day years from now, I will think this feast day, the first Feast Day of Saint Anna Ellison Butler Alexander celebrated at Saint Anna’s, will most likely be the highlight of my ministry.  I can think of nothing more profoundly meaningful and lifegiving in ministry than this moment.

Photo credit for Saint Anna’s Book of Common Prayer:  Dwala Nobles



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