The Most Rev. Michael Curry, thank you for your support of Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church in Antioch, California. We are deeply grateful for the work you are doing. You are a Light in the World!
Service celebrating new saint seals bond between her congregation and church that took her name
By David Paulsen
Posted Oct 8, 2019
[See photos at Episcopal News Service)
Zora Nobles, left, and her cousin, Dwala Nobles, present relics of St. Anna Alexander at a service Oct. 6 at Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church in Antioch, California. Photo: Kazuhiro “Kaz” Tsuruta
[Episcopal News Service] A California congregation named for one of The Episcopal Church’s newest saints, St. Anna Alexander, celebrated its namesake at a Sunday worship service that included a visit from two members of the church that Alexander helped establish in Pennick, Georgia.
Dwala Nobles, 59, and Zora Nobles, 65, cousins and longtime members of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Pennick, brought with them century-old relics from Alexander’s work at Good Shepherd Church and its school, including Alexander’s Book of Common Prayer. On Oct. 6, Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church in Antioch, California, welcomed them as the congregation celebrated Alexander’s legacy as the only black Episcopal deaconess.
“It was almost like coming home,” Dwala Nobles told Episcopal News Service in a phone interview the day after the service. “We felt like we were home among family and friends.”
Saint Anna’s, the first Episcopal church to be named after an African American woman, was formed in March through the merger of two former congregations, St. George’s in Antioch and St. Alban’s in Brentwood in the Diocese of California. Alexander had only a year earlier been confirmed as a saint in The Episcopal Church, when General Convention in July 2018 voted to add her and her feast day, Sept. 24, to the church’s calendar of saints.
Deaconess Anna Ellison Butler Alexander was born in 1865 to recently freed slaves and died in 1947. She ministered in rural Georgia, focusing on the education of poor black children. Photo: Diocese of Georgia
Alexander was born in 1865 and died in 1947, and she spent much of her adult life ministering to poor black residents of Glynn and McIntosh counties in rural Georgia, particularly through education. She became a deaconess in 1907 in an era before the church allowed women as priests or deacons. Among those she taught at Good Shepherd were Dwala Nobles’ father and Zora Nobles’ father.
Among the items they brought with them to California were Alexander’s hymnal from 1878 and a Sunday school ledger from the early 20th century. Some of the materials include Alexander’s handwritten notes on teaching methods.
“St. Anna was indeed the persistent force encouraging and urging her students to aim high,” the Rev. Jennifer Nelson, a deacon in the Diocese of California, said in her sermon for the Oct. 6 service. Nelson is originally from Guyana and said Alexander reminded her of the caring teachers who encouraged her in her education.
“She had God’s blessing as she continued to forge onward, blazing a path that gives us a window that now shows us the courage and tenacity she would need to overcome the bigotry and discrimination in her time.”
During the service, Alexander’s Book of Common Prayer and other relics were placed on the altar. The cousins from Alexander’s Georgia church presented the congregation at Saint Anna’s with a framed picture of Alexander that was propped against the altar. Saint Anna’s reciprocated by giving Dwala Nobles and Zora Nobles a silver chalice that had been used by one of the two congregations that merged to form the new church.
St. Anna Alexander’s relics, including her Book of Common Prayer and hymnal, are received by the Rev. Alberta Buller and placed on the altar during a service Oct. 6 at Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church. Photo: Kazuhiro “Kaz” Tsuruta
A video of the service was shared on the church’s Facebook page.
Alexander was “imbuing us with her spirit,” the Rev. Jill Honodel, the congregation’s long-term supply priest, told ENS. She described it as an emotional and joyous day, centered around highlighting the life and works of an Episcopal saint who is only beginning to receive the full recognition she deserves.
“It felt like together, from coast to coast, we are taking what has been hidden and invisible all these years and we have the privilege and the honor of revealing it,” Honodel said.
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who visited Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in January 2018, also addressed those gathered at Saint Anna’s, through a brief video he recorded for the service. He alluded to a resource center established by Saint Anna’s.
“I rejoice in the fact that you, Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church, have focused on the needs of children and families in your community with a resource center for children and families,” Curry said. “That indeed is God’s work. That indeed is the work of Anna Alexander, deaconess of The Episcopal Church.”
Honodel and other local leaders spent the following day showing their two visitors from Georgia around the San Francisco Bay Area, including a sightseeing stop at the Golden Gate Bridge. They were scheduled to return home with Alexander’s relics on Oct. 8.
“It was just really critical that we come for this. We know this is just the beginning of the relationship,” Dwala Nobles said.
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FIRST CHURCH TO BE NAMED AFTER ST. ANNA ALEXANDER IS INAUGURATED
For Immediate Release
25 March 2019
Contact: Stephanie Martin Taylor, email@example.com (415) 869-7820
Antioch, California – Sunday, in a much-anticipated liturgy, the words of Bishop Marc Andrus soared through the air, It is my delight to authorize with the consent of the Standing Committee the organization of St. George’s and St. Alban’s into a new bishop’s congregation with the name of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church.
With those words, the first Episcopal Church in the nation to be named after Saint Anna Alexander was created. Anna Ellison Butler Alexander is a new saint in the Episcopal tradition whose Feast Day is on September 24th and will be included in the next edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. Anna Alexander came to the attention of St. George’s, Antioch, and St. Alban’s, Brentwood, during last year’s Lent Madness and six months before General Convention reaffirmed her sainthood in July. Born shortly after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Anna Alexander devoted her life to the service of others by providing much needed education and literacy to the children of those formerly enslaved. Despite the segregation of the Episcopal Church at the time, she became the first African American Deaconess in the Episcopal Church.
The new congregation has parishioners who hail directly from Uganda, Liberia, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Korea, Mexico, Canada, Holland, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Bermuda and Ghana among others. The Rev. Jill Honodel, Long-Term Supply Priest said, We were so inspired by Anna's story of the pouring out her life for the sake of those formerly enslaved; despite having little resources she managed over time to build a school as well as a church to help people succeed through literacy. Educational segregation exists right here in our neighborhood in that only 9% of the African American boys pass their math through high school. We are inspired by Saint Anna to do our part so that as many people as possible have a chance to succeed and the opportunity for a good future. When parishioner Betty Smith saw the saint’s photo on the front cover of Sunday’s bulletin, she thought, It was good to come to church this morning and to see a saint of the church that looks like me. I’m really thankful that God has given this to me in my time.
St. George’s of Antioch and St. Alban’s of Brentwood, which are near the epicenter of the real estate crash that impacted the nation in 2008, were hard hit. In 2018, they decided to not only share space in Antioch but also to share governance. September 30th, the two mission churches officially petitioned to merge and reform into a new mission. The membership was unanimous in the decision. There is potential for a future church plant in Brentwood on a 9-acre property owned by the Diocese of California. The membership of the new Saint Anna’s has done significant and heartfelt congregational work over the last two and a half years. Bishop Marc Andrus has been supportive of the congregations and their merging into one and naming themselves after the church’s newest saint.
The new Sr. Warden of Saint Anna’s Michelle Price summarizes the sentiments of the congregation by saying, I’m elated that we are finally Saint Anna’s Episcopal Church. I was so inspired by her story in Lent Madness. She models what I feel is true Christianity: her quiet faithfulness and being a teacher, a champion for literacy and education, which is something I feel very passionately about. I took away from Lent Madness her being a saint as something I could emulate in my own life. Some of the saints do things that are so huge and so dynamic and here’s this humble, small woman in Pennick, that just quietly changed people’s lives one student at a time and depopulated the area and brought them to a new life where otherwise they would have been left behind so she is truly an inspiration to me. Hopefully our church will model the same through our resource center by hosting literacy programs, after school programs and math programs.
Mimi Costa-White whose photo as a five-year-old was taken in the church when it was called St. Barnabas said, Witnessing the proclamation of the birth of St. Anna’s Episcopal was both moving and joyous. I felt St. Anna Alexander’s spirit of strength, determination and love of community in every moment of the service. It makes me very proud to be a member of the first church to honor her memory and teachings.
The new church will host multiple celebrations this year that will be open to the community beginning on July 21st.
The mission statement of Saint Anna’s is A diverse community celebrating God’s love and acceptance.
Photography by Emma Marie Chiang