Six minutes

Can there be good news in the midst of tragedy? The best news I read in the Washington Post all last week was on page 9 of Friday’s paper. It was part of the article on the shooting at the school in Oregon. It was this:

10:38 a.m. The Douglas County emergency center receives a report of active shooter at Umpqua Community College.
10:40 a.m. Dispatcher reports “Someone is outside one of the doors, shooting through the doors.”
10:44 a.m. Police report they have located the shooter in Snyder Hall and are exchanging shots with him.
10:47 a.m. The shooter is reported down.

Good news? Where is the good news in that? Well, did you do the math? Six minutes. Six minutes from the time the report comes into the emergency response center until the police have located and are engaging the shooter. Six minutes. It staggers the imagination. How did they do that? One could infer from this that police forces all over the country have learned the lesson of Columbine, where precious time was lost in a response protocol that just allowed the shooters to kill more people.

Behind such a successful response one can imagine planning meetings working out response plans and practical exercises to test them. For it must be clear to even the smallest of such police forces that no one can predict where the next attempted massacre will take place. It could be anywhere.

Amidst the heated public dialogue over gun control, mental illness and incidents of over-reaction by the police in some recent encounters, we forget at our peril that the police remain that thin blue line between us and would be evildoers run wild

I close with one of the prayers from Compline.

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”

For me, this prayer calls to mind doctors, nurses and other medical personnel on the midnight shift, in wards and emergency rooms, and clergymen and women responding to calls to rise from sleep and go minister to the hysterical, the sick and the dying. For a long time I didn’t know what to do with “shield the joyous,” but then it finally occurred to me that this refers to police officers on patrol shielding us from harm in the wee hours of the night and early morning as we return from a joyous late evening at the theater or dinner with friends with seldom a thought to the evils that could befall us.  Christ acting through all these as they be the word made flesh – the hands and feet of Jesus in the here and now.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 6-October-2015.

Posted in Ron Hicks | 4 Comments

Sign Language II: Food for Thought

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Sign Language.  The post was written in response to a question posed  at an informal Adult Forum called Ask a Priest:  The point of that post was that in a liturgy like ours, a liturgy replete with signs and symbols, the only “mistake” one can make is to “do something and not understand why.”

A friend read the Post and sent me a one-word response:  Amen.  Rich is usually more verbose than that; sure enough a little later I received another e-mail: “On the other hand, understanding can be overrated, whether one is doing it or not. A few years ago, we talked in EfM about the practice of giving communion to children. Someone suggested, without being pushy, that maybe it would be better to wait until the person receiving communion could understand it.  My reaction:  I hope that’s not the standard, because I’d not like to think myself ineligible in my 60s; I may not understand the eucharist, but I don’t want to miss it, either.”

I wrote Rich back to say that I was 100% in agreement.  I remember my “First Communion” in the Roman Catholic Church.  I was 12 years old.  firstcommunionI went to confirmation class and had chosen my confirmation name: Luke  (a name I chose not because I knew who wrote a certain Gospel but rather because I had recently seen a certain movie – Cool Hand Luke!).  After receiving communion for the first time I don’t remember anything changing in me, ontological or otherwise.

Whenever parents or guardians ask me the question posed in Rich’s EfM class my answer is that the first time a child should receive communion is the first time that they reach for out it, for the very reasons Rich articulates above.  In the Episcopal Church “Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s body, the Church (BCP).”  In other words Holy Baptism is the moment we are invited to communion… communion with one another and communion with God.

At. St. Alban’s we practice “open communion or an open table.”  This means that anyone who comes to the altar, baptized or not, is eligible to receive Holy Communion.  In the Episcopal Church, anyway, open communion isn’t practiced universally and there are some priests who believe that it’s contrary to church doctrine (just the same I’ve never had a Bishop who asked).  A few years ago I heard a compelling argument that because so many people are “unchurched” these days the Eucharist (Holy Communion) has replaced Baptism as the Sacrament that invites people into Christ’s body, the Church; that the Eucharist precedes baptism rather than the other way around.  I can’t imagine God preferring one track over the other.


The word liturgy, literally translated, means The Work of the People.  Rich concluded his e-mail with a pithy sentence (one that I’ll never forget): “So, maybe the work of the people involves doing, religiously, what we don’t understand.” Amen, Rich…  and food for thought, to be sure!


Happy Monday,




Posted in The Rev. Jim Quigley | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Billy Elliot Moments

For the past three days I’ve been at the Diocese of Washington’s Formation Leader’s Retreat up at the Bishop Claggett Center.  The retreat is for lay and ordained leaders whose ministry focuses primarily on formation for children, youth, and young adult formation.  This year’s keynote speaker is Dr. Lisa Kimball, the Director of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching, and Professor of Christian Formation and Congregational Leadership at Virginia Theological Seminary.  As always, her address and sessions have been thoughtful, interactive, informative, and given us all a number of things to chew on about the intersections of our faith, ministry, and society.

Lisa closed one of her sessions with the following clip from the movie Billy Elliot:


She asked us to remember and think about those moments when our faith has been so real and transformative for us…as Billy says, “electricity.”  My hunch is that if you are reading this you probably have either had a moment (or hopefully MOMENTS) of that feeling, or you are looking for that moment when your faith comes alive in such a way as to feel electric.

Stop for a moment right now.  Think and remember those times where your faith or an encounter with God has left you electrified, feeling like you are soaring.  When do those moments happen for you?  Where have they happened for you?  Have they been in corporate worship on a Sunday morning, or in the silent stillness of solitary prayer?  What are you feeling in those moments?  What words would you use to describe those encounters, those feelings?  How would you describe those moments which are truly gifts from God?


How can you share that gift of those moments with anyone else?


What’s holding you back from sharing those gifts?


In Christ,


Posted in The Rev. Matthew R. Hanisian | 4 Comments

Preaching to the Birds

first posted on September 30, 2010

A few days from now, October 4, the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi is celebrated (unless it falls on a Sunday, as it does this year). Perhaps the most beloved of all saints, he was an inspiration to countless painters, composers, authors, not to mention men and women around the world who devote their lives to God today.

For Brother Sun, whose brightness makes the light by which we see.
For Sister Moon, whose beams were formed to shine so clear and bright.
For Brother Wind, whose clouds and breezes blow across the land.
For Sister Water, so precious, humble, lowly, chaste and pure.
For Brother Fire, whose flames and light illuminate the night.
For Sister Earth, for grass and plants and flowers and all our food.

The Canticle of Brother Sun is an almost child-like praise of God’s creation by St. Francis. Perhaps his words will lead you in your own exuberant appreciation of God’s handiwork.


Sometime I find myself talking to the apparently unlistening. That probably never happens to you. To be honest, sometimes they truly aren’t listening, but there are times when I’m happily surprised to find that my words were in fact heard. There is a charming legend in which St. Francis famously preached to the birds. Were they listening? While I’m no St. Francis, I have often felt myself in conversation with nearby birds whenever I’m practicing at home with the windows open. I don’t have proof of this, but it really does seem that they sing more loudly during the pauses.

The 19th century composer Franz Liszt, who was dissuaded by his father from becoming a priest early in his life, and who took minor holy orders late in his life, wrote a piece about St. Francis preaching to the birds. It obviously captures birdsong for a pianist’s figures and, I think, also captures the conversation between a gentle monk and his flock…of birds.


A lesson in love for the natural world is certainly one of Francis’s gifts to us, but his visit to Egypt in 1219, during one of the Crusades, may have even more to say to us today. Francis went to Egypt with intentions to convert the Sultan, and found himself instead in dialogue with the Sultan. It would be the Franciscans, of all Catholics, who would be allowed to stay on in the Holy Land and who are still recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as “custodians of the holy land.”

A lesson in listening might then be Francis’s greatest gift of all. Whether in conversation with birds or with those following other paths to God.


Posted in Sonya Subbayya Sutton | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Papal Visit to America

My hope for the world from the visit to America last week of Pope Francis comes from one of the prayers for a newly married couple in the marriage service in the book of Common Prayer.  It reads, “Grant that all married persons who have witnessed these vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed.”

That is, I hope for the Catholic Church, that all of its lukewarm and disaffected and fallen away members see in it again what they once saw and help it right the wrongs and heal the wounds of the past.  And my hope for my own and all other denominations is that they will also be inspired by the message of Pope Francis to be more merciful and understanding in our relationships one to another and more committed in our devotions.

I think this is not far-fetched because of something I saw on TV on the Friday evening of the Pope’s week in America.  It was the Bill Maher show at 10 p.m.  Bill is, as you might know, a former Catholic and now an avowed atheist who doesn’t miss an opportunity to ridicule the church’s teaching about a life after death.  On his show that evening, all three of his panelist were also like-minded with him – but all professed not just respect but admiration for Pope Francis and his message to America.

I think the positive after-effects of the papal visit might well be long lasting and far reaching in the turning of the hearts of countless individuals to their higher calling to live more saintly lives.  I pray that it may be so.

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, 29-September-2015.

Posted in Ron Hicks | 2 Comments

On Earth… as it is in Heaven.

In preparation for an upcoming event at St. Alban’s,  Expressions of Faith; A Creative Retreat,  I’m re-reading a book that was given to me on the occasion of my ordination to the priesthood.  The book is Pavel Florensky’s Iconostasis.  

Pavel Florensky, born in 1882, was a philosopher, theologian and scientist who became an Orthodox priest in 1911.  In the midst of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 Fr. Pavel was a leading voice in Russia’s great movement in religious philosophy, a movement that was violently destroyed by the Soviets in the 1920’s & 1930’s.  Fr. Pavel was silenced in 1922 and after ten years of forced work as a scientist for the Soviet regime was arrested on false charges, imprisoned and murdered by a KGB directive in 1937.

Iconostasis, written in 1922, is book about the significance of icons but it’s also about dreams and about philosophy and theology.  After an introduction that deals with the spiritual structure of dreams a section called Spiritual Sobriety and the Iconic Face posits: “What is true of art and dream is also true of mystical experience.”  The soul is raised up from the visible to the invisible and then back again to the visible, where ideas appear:

“What we say about the dream holds true (with minor changes) about any movement from one sphere to another.  In creating a work of art, the psyche or soul of the artist ascends from the earthly realm into the heavenly; there, free of all images, the soul is fed in contemplation by the essences of the highest realm, knowing the permanent noumena of things; then, satiated with this knowing, it descends again to the earthly realm.  And precisely at the boundary between two worlds, the soul’s spiritual knowledge assumes the shapes of symbolic imagery: and it is these images that make permanent works of art.  Art is thus materialized dream, separated from the ordinary consciousness of waking life.” 

To me this sounds a lot like what can happen to any of us in any church service.  Through the proclamation and preaching of Word and Sacrament our souls rise from the visible world (the complexity, the demands, the boredom and the joys of work & relationships that constitute our earthly life) to the invisible (to the dream that Jesus called the Kingdom of God).  And then they return to the visible world where both the visible and invisible intersect: to where ideas and images appear; ideas and images of entering more fully into God’s dream about realizing on earth the things already realized in heaven.  How many times have you left a church service inspired to imagine yourself as a different kind of image?  An image created in the likeness of God… But soon forgotten the dream?

On Saturday, October 17, we will gather at Persimmon Ridge Farm (if you are a parishioner connected to  St. Alban’s Church check today’s e-mail) to playfully but reverently let our spirits rise and fall while we make personal icons.  We’re not gathering as trained artists but rather as people with souls; as people trying to materialize the dream… and make it more permanent.

Happy Monday,


Posted in The Rev. Jim Quigley | Leave a comment

Second Great

A wise preacher once remarked, “If you find you can’t do ANYthing else, keep it short.”  So in that spirit I’ll offer something that’s been bumping around my mind for the past couple of days:


I’m beginning to be convinced that one of the reasons why our society seems to have what the bible calls “hardness of heart,” is because we have a hard time loving ourselves.  Forgiving others seems to be easier than forgiving ourselves…being tender and compassionate with others seems to be easier than giving those small bits of grace to ourselves.


I’ve read in a number of publications and articles that we have a very difficult time loving or even accepting anyone else unless first we are able to accept and love ourselves.  So how can we love the “other” if we cannot take delight, joy, wonder, have an appreciation for, and LOVE ourselves?   Jesus says that the second great commandment is that we love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31).  Pretty hard to do if we can’t first love ourselves.


Take a moment today–right now actually–and think about the many ways (or even ONE WAY) that you are loveable…yes, this might be more difficult than you imagine.  Then give a think to the fact that God–THE God, the creator of all that is–knows you through and through and LOVES YOU anyway.  You are beloved of God.  (want proof?)


In Christ,


Posted in The Rev. Matthew R. Hanisian | Tagged , , | 4 Comments