Remembering Anna

By Sarah Cornwell

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 4:38-44

38 After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. 39 Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

40 As the sun was setting, all those caring for any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. 41 Moreover, demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.

42 At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds began looking for him, and when they reached him they tried to keep him from leaving them. 43 But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” 44 So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.


Jesus doesn’t stay where it is easy. He had a good thing going with plenty of work to do where he was, but he left. He knew he must continue on down the road, even though the way would get more and more difficult.

Today, the Episcopal Church remembers Anna Ellison Butler Alexander, the Episcopal Church’s first black deaconess. Alexander was born in Georgia in 1865, the same year as the ratification of the 13th Amendment which abolished slavery in the United States. Despite the rise of Jim Crow, Alexander remained in the South her whole life. She founded a school and an Episcopal mission, and her work between the two required a 40-mile round trip by boat and foot.

Through her leadership and labor, the mission grew into a church, and she was consecrated a deaconess there in 1907. That same year, the diocese split, and the Diocese of Georgia excluded Black men and women from leadership roles, and refused to support Alexander’s work. But Alexander never abandoned her call — even when survival got that much harder during the Great Depression.

The Lord’s servants do not remain where it is easy, but they do remain with their Lord. They carry on with their work, wherever it leads, despite all odds. They serve God’s Church even when the Church itself tries to stymie them. If the work God has called you to do feels impossible and lacking in institutional support, even within God’s own Church, think of Anna Ellison Butler Alexander. Let the lives of God’s remarkable servants encourage you in your work ahead.

You can read more about Anna Ellison Butler Alexander and her ministry here

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have seven children and they live in Chicago.

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The Diocese of Multan – The (united) Church of Pakistan
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