Anna Alexander was a woman born ahead of her time.
Born to emancipated slaves on Butler Plantation in Darien in 1865, Anna Ellison Butler Alexander was an African American educator, who paved the way for the futures of generations of children. But that was just a part of her mission. In addition, she was also named the first black deaconess of the Episcopal Church, serving the people of Pennick and Darien throughout her life.
She spent more than 60 years living her faith through her church, Good Shepherd, in Pennick. Under her guidance, her parishioners gave more support to the needy throughout the world than any church in the diocese, surrendering their pennies and dimes each week to help others. A good example of this charity took place in 1923. That was when more than 200,000 people died during an earthquake in Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan. Deaconess Alexander’s mission diverted building funds to aid the victims.
In addition to her church and teaching in her two-room school house, Alexander would also row 15 miles down the Altamaha River to serve the people of St. Cyprian’s in Darien. She passed from the world in 1947, after leaving an indelible mark on the community and the Episcopal Church as a whole.
In 1998, Alexander was named a saint of Georgia by the Diocese of Georgia with a feast day of Sept. 24. In 2015, the church voted to include Alexander in the book “Holy Women, Holy Men,” which assigns a particular day for a church saint, at its General Convention in Salt Lake City. This summer she will receive even more attention. At the 2018 General Convention in Austin, Texas, there will be a vote for full recognition for Alexander, which will bring her more attention as a saint nationally.
For those in the church today, she remains an enduring inspiration, one who will be honored locally over the weekend. Her life and legacy will be celebrated with a visit by the Presiding Bishop, the most Rev. Michael Curry during a revival entitled, “Fearless Faith, Boundless Love: Revival.” Two services will take place today, both will feature Curry’s preaching.
For the Rev. Tom Purdy, priest of Christ Church Frederica on St. Simons Island, and the rest of the local Episcopalian community it is a rare occasion, one that simply cannot be missed.
“The presiding bishop is coming in part to celebrate Deaconess Alexander, the first female deaconess in the episcopal church,” Purdy said.
It is unusual for the leader of America’s Episcopalian church to make a stop in a such a small community. Curry holds a master of divinity degree from Yale University Divinity School in New Haven, Conn. and has held the role since 2015.
The first service will be at 9:30 a.m. at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Pennick. The Rev. Scott Anson Benhase, Bishop of Georgia, will officiate at the service and Curry will also preach on the grounds of the church and school Alexander founded.
The second event, the Diocese’s Revival, will be held under a large tent at Honey Creek Retreat Center, 299 Georgia Episcopal Center Road, Waverly, later that day. It will also celebrate Deaconess Alexander with the premiere of a short film produced for the diocese by Savannah College of Art and Design.
Music will be provided by the Savannah Children’s Choir, the Albany State University Concert Chorale, Roger Moss and Trina Meade. The fellowship hour will begin at noon with the service starting at 1 p.m. today.
Purdy hopes that many in the church, as well as the whole of the community, will venture out to hear Curry’s celebrated preaching style and to honor Alexander.
“He will be leading the revival and he preaches in a very unique way. He’s a phenomenal preacher and he is very active and moves around a lot. So hopefully those who attend will leave the revival being revived and catching some of that fire of the gospel that he is trying to share,” Purdy said.
“I hope that it brings out friends and neighbor who would like to hear gospel in new and different way.”