The Absalom Jones Episcopal Center (AJEC), located within the Atlanta University Center, began as the Canterbury House in 1957. First established by the Diocese of Atlanta and Black Episcopalians to help recruit black students for the Episcopal priesthood, the mission and ministry has transformed over the years.
During the height of the Southern Freedom Movement in the mid-60’s, the Canterbury House served as a gathering place for young student organizers and activists. The Canterbury House was a hub for critical engagement with the social justice issues of the day, and many voices (including brothers from the Islamic community) were invited to enter the dialogue. During this same era, under the leadership of the Reverend Warren Scott†, students from the Canterbury House were among the first African Americans to integrate Camp Mikell, our diocesan camp.
Nearing the end of the century, the Diocese of Atlanta leadership decided to build a new chapel and student center for the Canterbury House. Through a diocesan-wide fundraising campaign, two lots located in the center of the Atlanta University Center were acquired as the new home for AJEC. During the Reverend Brian Jemmott’s tenure, the first phases of AJEC were completed. The second level remains incomplete.
In 2002, a young man at Morehouse College was brutally beaten by another Morehouse student who accused him of making a homosexual advance. This hate crime exemplifies the unwelcoming and hostile environment that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in the Atlanta University Center endured. In light of this, the Reverend Gloria Bowden†, opened the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center as a “safe-space” for the LGBT students in the community. She also helped form several young adults for the priesthood.
With an awareness of the past and a vision towards the future, the current mission and ministry at AJEC builds on the foundation established by the Diocese of Atlanta in the-50’s. Through various forums, we continue to actively engage, inform, and organize students around issues of social oppression and injustice. In partnership with several community-based organizations, we explore issues involving Israel and Palestine, chronic homelessness in Atlanta, and capital punishment. We strive to make AJEC a place for students, faculty, and staff to come when they need a gathering space for unionizing and organizing (the cafeteria workers of Morehouse and Clark-Atlanta continue to use our space). While continuing to be a safe-space for LGBT students, we promote AJEC as a place for all students. We also intentionally engage broader questions regarding human sexuality through Bible studies, workshops, panel discussions and classes.
Above all, our aim is to form faithful leaders for the Church and the world. The two worship services offered each week, regular opportunities for spiritual advising, confession, and opportunities to engage the Church on the Diocesan and Church-wide levels assist in this mission. Our partnership with the Men’s Club of Holy Cross provides students with examples of faithful men striving to deepen their relationships with God. We also offer support and guidance as students discern vocation callings to both lay and ordained ministry. Students are encouraged to think critically about how to live ethical and faithful lives in their future vocations.