14 April – The Feast of Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany
As a college student in the 1970s attending a small Methodist liberal arts college in Central Arkansas called Hendrix I become enraptured by the Civil Rights Movement. We held rallies, we held marches, we held candlelight vigils at which we would sing that venerable hymn “We Shall Overcome”. And, of course there was Vietnam, and once again we held rallies, we held marches, and we sang hymns, peace songs and “We Shall Overcome”. But, as I discovered as a young lawyer practicing in Little Rock protesting in the protected world of academia where those “in charge” (or as we called them “The Man”, The Establishment” or “Whitey”) who tolerated us, and even sometimes sympathized with our desire to rid the world of discrimination, was much different from the hard work of overcoming discrimination in the real world where the real “Man” was not so generous. Even in the seventies, and even today, there was, and is, violence against any one who tried to upset the ancient order of things. Resistance was fierce and sometimes we doubted if we would – really overcome.
In preparing for leading the Morning Office tomorrow I was pleased to learn that the fourteenth of April is the Feast Day for Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany, two African American Bishops of the Episcopal Chruch. Demby particularly caught my eye as he, at one point in his career, had served as the Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Arkansas, The old home turf. His efforts in that regard were much supported by another Arkansas Bishop, R. Bland Mitchell for whom the main Episcopal Chruch Camp in the state was named. Sitting high atop Petit Jean Mountain (pronounced petty gene in Arkansian) it is on the order of Camp Kanuga in Hendersonville, North Carolina . I spent many a fine summer at Camp Mitchell where I met my first true love who alas and alack abandoned me, and at that time I thought she had abandoned the faith She ended up becoming a Presbyterian minister after having matriculated through Union Theological Seminary . Time heals all wounds and at this point in time I had my whole life ahead of me. Sometimes though it is difficult to see that. And. I have since learned that not all Presbyterians are bad . I now have several dear friends who are either Presbyterian ministers or who work in Presbyterian Churches and they do wonderful work.
Our two Saints did “good work” too. They were pioneers in the striving for equal rights at a time when it was not popular, and even dangerous, to be pioneers in that field. The following biographies of these holy Bishops are paraphrases, with additions, from HOLY WOMEN, HOLY MEN published by Chruch Publishing:
THE RIGHT REVEREND EDWARD THOMAS DEMBY
Demby was born in Delaware in 1869 and attended Howard University. While working as a Dean of students at Paul Quinn College in Texas he became an Episcopalian His gifts for ministry were recognized by Bishop Spalding who sent him to work in the Diocese of Tennessee. He was ordained Deacon in 1898 and a priest the next year. He served parishes in Illinois, Missouri, and Florida. He later served as the Rector of Emanuel Church in Memphis, Tennessee (the city of this author’s birth place). He was appointed Archdeacon for “Colored Work”, with responsibilities for the segregated “colored convocations” in the South.
It was while he was serving as Archdeacon that he was elected Bishop Suffragan for Colored Work in the Diocese of Arkansas and the Province of the Southwest. A “Suffragan Bishop” is one usually elected to fill a vacancy or serve as an assistant to a sitting Bishop and is one who cannot succeed himself. He can stand for election as permanent Bishop but he cannot automatically fill the See when the Bishop he serves retires or dies. However, a Bishop Co-Adjutor will automatically become Bishop without having to stand for election. The old joke I heard is you can tell the difference in their greeting to the Bishop they work for. The Suffragan comes in and says to his elder bishop “How are you this morning Bishop ? I hope you are well. May I get you some coffee? Whereas, the Co-adjutor comes in and says in a rather harsh tone :so how are you doing this morning “Old Man” .
Demby was a major contributor to the westward expansion of the Episcopal Chruch and his term in Arkansas was not all smooth. As he took up his duties as Suffragan he found the Diocese had no official residence for him to live in and did not intend to pay him a salary. He described the experience as “building bricks without straw.” But, despite the problems he encountered among the white leadership Demby worked his whole life toward full recognition of African Americans in the Episcopal Church.
THE RIGHT REVEREND HENRY BEARD DELANY
Bishop Delany was ordained to the episcopate the same year as Demby. He was born a slave in Saint Mary’s Georgia. He was called to be the Bishop Suffragan for “Colored Work” also. In that capacity he worked in the Diocese of North Carolina, but his ministry extended into the dioceses of East and Western North Carolina, South Carolina, and Upper South Carolina.
Delaney was a strong advocate for the integration of African American Episcopalians into the wider Church despite the Jim Crow laws of the day and the efforts of the white leaders of the Chruch to suppress them.
As the biography in Holy Women, Holy Men point out that “the presence of men like Demby and Delaney were viewed as threats by the leaders of the white majority to their power and authority. However, these two men steadfastly headed their callings and were willing to pledge their lives, their treasure and their sacred honor to the cause of Jesus , the Christ. It is a sign of the circular nature of eternal time that the descendant of slave owners would laud and magnify the the great goodness and courage of these two wonderful men. May God be Praised! The lives of these two men are aptly summarized in the words of the Prophet Malachi from Chapter 2 verses 5 through 7 of his book which is appointed to be read as the Old Testament lesson for this feast:
5 My covenant with him was a covenant of life and peace , and I gave them to him, that he might fear; and he feared me , he stood in awe of my name. 6 True instruction was in his mouth , and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned away from iniquity. 7 For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts
Edward Thomas Demby and Henry Beard Delany will be venerated with prayers and incense tomorrow morning at Morning Prayer beginning at eight o’clock a.m. All are welcome and lovingly invited.