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Dear St. Luke’s Community,

You, like me, were no doubt horrified as the events unfolded in Blacksburg, VA this week. We were living in the Denver area when the events of Columbine High School unfolded nine years ago. What struck me this week is that unlike that day, I did not find myself experiencing the profound surprise and shock that I did when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on their rampage. I didn’t glue myself to the television. In fact, I have tried to avoid all the media buzz. There seems to be such a feeding frenzy when something like this happens.

I spend some time wondering just why that might be. I suspect it is because it happens more frequently than ever before. I suspect that the unblinking eye of the media brings more of it to our attention. I suspect that after the events of September 11, 2001 we have lost a great deal of our naiveté about our relative safety in the world.

After I’ve spent that time, I spend some more time thinking about what we as Christians ought to DO in the face of such unspeakable and senseless horror perpetrated by one human being on other human beings. For now I’m not talking about how to prevent such things. It seems to me that is the role of folks who determine public policy. What we can do, however, is be intentional about our response to such events. Of course our initial response and prayer goes out to the victims of such violence. What of the perpetrators? If our sympathy lies only with the victim, we rob some of Jesus’ teaching some of its counter cultural impact. Look to Luke’s Gospel for instance. Jesus says here in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:27-38):

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,

28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.

30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.

34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.

35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;

38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

We should of course keep the victims and their families in the forefront of our prayers. Having said that, we should also find the grace and courage to prayer for the young man who did such horrible things and the suffering his family must be enduring as well. I believe it breaks the heart of God to see any of his children die so desperate and apparently without hope.

I know it’s hard to prayer for those who persecute us or others. But really, who needs it more than they? Pray for it all, give it all to God.

Peace and Good,

The Rev. Warren Earl Hicks, Rector
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
921 Pleasant St.
Worcester, MA 01602
508-756-1990 (Office)
508-756-8277 (Fax)

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Dear Folks,

I’m posting this in addition to the weekly post I try and manage. This letter, written by an Anglican Priest serving St. George’s in Baghdad helped me put some perspective on the Gift of the Resurrection that I take for granted sometimes. I share it with you here.

Please see below this Sunday’s Easter article I have written for the ‘Mail on Sunday’.

Happy Easter to all from the FRRME; may you know the glory of the resurrected Jesus.


Easter in Baghdad

I know I have the best parish in the world. Yes it is rather different than most but it is wonderful. The journey to church is different than any other vicar experiences. I leave my trailer with my body armour and armoured helmet on. My body guards surround me as I get into the armoured vehicle. We drive through the International Zone, through many army check points, and finally into the ordinary streets. Half a mile away is the church. We arrive in 5 minutes; the Church of St George’s is surrounded by razor wire and bomb barricades.

The Special Forces know that I am arriving and have surrounded the Church and cut off the road. My security team searches the church and the churchyard and ensures with our church guards that there are no unknown people in the building. They give me the all-clear and at last I can go into my church of St George’s Baghdad. Many people have called it the most dangerous parish in the world; I prefer to leave that title to some church in British suburbia. For today is Easter and when I cry out in Arabic ‘Alleluia Al Masiah Kahm’ (Alleluia Christ is risen) the people will reply ‘Kahma Beltakid Alleluia’ (He is risen indeed Alleluia), and they will mean it.

A few months ago I was waiting for the helicopter in the International Zone to take me to the other side of Baghdad. I realized that it was almost exactly twenty years ago that I was asked what I wanted to do in 20 years time. I said I wanted to be a vicar in London. Today I find myself in the midst of a war zone and for some reason I love it. I miss my wife and two young boys in Hampshire. I loved my days as a vicar in London and as a Canon at Coventry Cathedral and it was whilst there that I started coming to Iraq 9 years ago.

Our congregation is all Iraqi though not Anglican. There have been Christians in Iraq from almost the beginning of the faith. At first a really miserable evangelist turned up by submarine transportation, called Jonah. He preached a short sermon, they all repented, and he really complained to God and said he wanted to die. A few hundred years later another miserable man turned up, this time it was doubting Thomas on his way to India. He asked them if they knew their Messiah had come and they said no. He told them about Jesus, they believed in him and to this day their greatest saints are Jonah and Thomas and many of the Christians still come from Nineveh.

Our congregation is very large with over 1300 members; fortunately they do not all turn up at every service otherwise we would not fit them all in. After the war in 2003 we had about 10 people. Since then we have grown every week. Many of our members are Chaldeans, Syrian Orthodox and Assyrian Christians. They came to our church because travel was difficult and no other church was near them. Coming to church is dangerous; some have even been killed on their way. Christians, like all others in Iraq, are constantly under attack but they do not give up their faith; it is the thing that gives hope in the present chaos. The persecution of Christians is sadly increasing continually; they are all under mounting attack.

As the congregation arrives I greet them all with three kisses and if I leave one person out I am told in no uncertain terms. Then the children come in from their classes to see me. There are well over a hundred each week. They all expect a hug and a kiss as well. They then start the worship; they sing and sing and sing. An hour passes and we can commence the main service. Today the only Church of England thing about the gathering will be the hundreds of chocolate creme eggs that I have brought with me from England.

Here in Iraq everything may be awful. I look around the congregation and see that many of the women are wearing black– their husbands have been killed, many since last year, and I know for them Easter is very real. We sing the song “Because He lives we can face tomorrow, because He lives all fear is gone because I know He holds the future and life is worth living just because He lives”. For us here in Baghdad Easter is not just a festival that means turning up to church, it is the very heart of hope and light in darkness.

Here our church is an Anglican Church, but it is not plagued by the worries and problems of many churches. The issue of sexuality has never even been mentioned. Here the only worry is will there be food on the table tonight, will my loved ones survive the day and will my children return and not be kidnapped. What happens each day here can not really be mentioned, it is far too awful. I regularly tell people that I have spent much of my past decade in war zones; what you see on TV is usually worse than the reality but here in Baghdad it is the other way round. In reality Baghdad is a 100 times worse than anything you ever see on TV. Just as the reality of the tragedy of this place is worse than you see, so is the reality of Easter far greater here than you can ever imagine. Here Easter is more than real, it is part of daily life for the Christians of this land and Easter is such a time of celebration.

When we say in our liturgy that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again, we mean it. We know that Christ is alive and real and it is this we celebrate on this day. Our worship will be exceptional not just today but everyday. As we think of what our Lord has suffered there is a real understanding of the nature of the cross; for our people here suffering is real. It is the reality of daily life. The other day I asked my people who of them had a loved one killed or injured in the past two years. They all responded positively. For them death is in the midst of life, therefore resurrection is their only hope. For them the fact that on this day they celebrate Christ rising from the dead means they are certain that this is what will happen to their loved ones and themselves,

So the worship continues, there is such joy amongst these people that not just on Easter but every resurrection day they can celebrate Christ rising from the dead. There is joy and even laughter in the midst of this suffering. Sometimes you realise that if you don’t laugh you will just cry, and there are many tears as well. The other week we had our service in one of the Government offices. Ali turned up and wanted to know why I had not told him all the children were coming. Now Ali is a leader in one of the major terrorist groups. I quickly thought to myself ‘I don’t usually tell the terrorists where our children are going to be’. He told me that he wanted to give them all presents. He left the room and returned a few minutes later, this time with piles of children’s Bibles. A few hours later (services are long) I looked at the Bibles only to discover that they were the precise ones that had been stolen on their way into Iraq recently.

I mention this because for the children this was part of their Easter story. One little girl told me the Bible had come to them because Jesus is alive. Because he was alive he would ensure that whatever was meant for them would be given to them. Even if by a terrorist it was an act of God. For us in Baghdad today God is alive and real.

I see the same belief in the reality of a living God amongst my other congregation at the US Embassy. Here most of the congregation is military; beside them on the floor is their body armour and guns. For them too the truth remains that ‘Because He lives they can face tomorrow’. They too have had their loved ones and colleagues killed and injured, they too hold to the hope of resurrection. For many, today is a time for Easter Egg hunts, fluffy bunnies and too much food; but for us, today is a day of hope and transformation as we proclaim here in Baghdad that “Alleluia Christ is risen, He is risen indeed Alleluia”.

The Rev’d Canon Andrew White

Anglican Priest in Iraq

President of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East

Dear St. Luke’s Community,

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!! The Lord is Risen Indeed!

First, let me begin by thanking the multitude of folks who worked so hard to make our Holy Week and Easter Celebrations a delight to behold and a joy to share! I have mentioned before in these missives, that liturgy is literally translated ‘the work of the people’. There was not one instance of LITURGY last week that was not deeply filled with the inspired work of God’s people….all of us!

The music was stellar, the atmosphere was Holy, the engagement and willingness to try new things in the course of our walk toward the Resurrection was great. Holy Week is so wonderfully rich, it is definitely our Episcopal Tradition at its best.

I was wandering about Church Websites as I sometimes do looking for something when I came across a piece by the Rector of a Church in Pennington, New Jersey entitled “What’s Right About The Epsicopal Church”. To hear secular media (and any number of others across the continuum of our Church) tell it, we are on life support if not already nearing our last gasp as a Church. To that, I politely say, “Fiddle Faddle!”. With thanks to Fr. Jack Belmont, Rector of St. Matthew’s in Pennington, New Jersey, I offer you this:

The Episcopal Church is not perfect and is in continual need of repentance and renewal, as are all institutions touched by humanity. Yet, I feel personally blessed by God in Christ to be counted as member and priest of this Church. I believe we have much to offer the world in Christ’s name that is right and good. I am saddened by those on both extremes who would hurt this Church by cruel words and accusations, especially those with whom we break the bread and share the cup. It becomes apparent to the world we are called to serve when some of us are long in zeal and light in charity! Surely Christians who strive to seek the will of Christ for this sinful and broken world have a common mission. In our disagreements, we are confronted, challenged and mandated to love as He loved us. As Episcopalians, we can be the answer to the great high priestly prayer of Jesus: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one.” Only we can get in His way!

I would like to add a hearty HERE, HERE to Fr. Belmont’s sentiments. Without a deep investment in seeking to serve Christ in All Persons (especially those with whom we disagree) we have nothing to offer the world that does anything to counter the tendency to shrill bickering that most of the general populace believes about our Episcopal Church. We must do better, because God wants desperately to demonstrate a ‘more excellent way’ to the world through His Church. To quote Fr. Belmont again ONLY WE CAN GET IN HIS WAY!

It is my fervent prayer that during this Easter Season we will find the grace, courage and wisdom to get out of God’s way and to allow Him to work his grace in the world.

Peace and Good,

The Rev. Warren Earl Hicks, Rector
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
921 Pleasant St.
Worcester, MA 01602
508-756-1990 (Office)
508-756-8277 (Fax)

Blog Address

Dear St. Luke’s Community,

I write this to you all smack dab in the middle of Holy Week. It is Wednesday. It is cold. It feels like winter all over again. Something is blowing in and it’s not simply the next wave of moisture from the Great Lakes. The drama of Holy Week is bursting at the seams, straining to break out and surprise us all over again.

On most Tuesdays I meet with a group of Episcopal clergy-type colleagues and we share lunch and discuss the readings for the coming week. This week there was no shortage of giddiness in that meeting. It was not excitement about Holy Week per se. Nor was it the joy of Easter straining at the boundaries of Lent. It was something else. We spent a good deal of time talking about how hearing the story in this week makes preaching difficult, almost superfluous.

What I pray for during every Holy Week is that we all really get into this story. It is the greatest gift we as the Church, the Body of Christ in the world, have been given. The intimacy of the Last Supper gives way to the tension in Garden, to the courtroom drama of Pilate really trying to let Jesus live to see another day, and the theatre of the absurdity of crucifying God careens out of control. Once the dastardly deed is finally done, then shock takes over and the reality of what life is going to be sinks in with the disciples and a sort of Holy Despair takes over. It seems to me that only then can any of our hearts be ready for the unbelievable to dawn into reality.

Wherever this week finds your heart (at any given minute!), I continue to pray that you’ll continue to try the story on for size. Just as we grow older and our clothes fit, let’s say differently, so too does this marvelous Gospel story fit us differently at each fitting. It may pinch us in places that it has never pinched before. We may delight to find that we’ve gained a little room and better fit around the middle. It seems to me that it’s never a bad fit, it just seems to direct our attention to the appropriate place at the appropriate time. As this week moves on and as the story takes further grip on your days, may you feel comfort in this story not because it always fits comfortably, but rather because it is true, with a CAPITAL “T”.

Peace and Good,

The Rev. Warren Earl Hicks, Rector
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
921 Pleasant St.
Worcester, MA 01602
508-756-1990 (Office)
508-756-8277 (Fax)

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