Episcopalians at Pentagon and 9/11

Episcopalians at the Pentagon began holding services during Lent 1987. The mid-week services were well received, and continued after Easter, with local clergy and military chaplains stationed in the area joining the rotation. Lucy Chumbley of the Washington Window, published by the Diocese of Washington, DC., writes about this ministry and the aftermath of the events of 9/11.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, John Symons was sitting at his desk in the Pentagon’s outermost ring when he heard a “big thud – and I knew what had happened.”

So he shut down his computer, turned off the coffee machine and the lights, closed up his office and left the building.

The next day, Symons – a contractor systems analyst who is a parishioner at St. John’s, Norwood – was back at his desk in the still-burning building.

The Pentagon, which continued to smolder for five days, was filled with acrid smoke. But just after noon, as was his custom, Symons made his way through the wide corridors to room 5B1059, the small auditorium where the Pentagon Episcopal Community had gathered each Wednesday since 1987 to celebrate the Eucharist.

“I wasn’t sure who would be there,” he said. “But I set up, and [Lt. Col.] Chris Cunningham came in.”

Standing together, with smoke in the air and soot on the altar, the two men read the Great Litany from the Book of Common Prayer.

Have mercy upon us. Spare us, good Lord. Good Lord, deliver us. We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord. Have mercy upon us. Grant us thy peace. O Christ, hear us.

“That’s the beauty of the prayer book,” Symons said, noting that after this experience, Cunningham entered the seminary and is now associate rector at St. Peter’s Church in Purcellville, Va.

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