Skip to content. | Skip to navigation


Personal tools
You are here: Home / Blog / How I Found Father Downing and Saint James' Capitol Hill

How I Found Father Downing and Saint James' Capitol Hill

| filed under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Several years ago my ex Michelle and I were at Doolittle's with our dog Suzi. There was a flyer for an animal blessing on Saint Francis' Day. There would be two blessings, one at Stanton Park and one at Lincoln Park. Although Michelle and I were not church-going folks, we didn't want to short change our beloved pet; besides, Michelle and Suzi were both from San Francisco.

How I Found Father Downing and Saint James' Capitol Hill

Saint James' Episcopal Church

When Michelle, Suzi, and I arrived at Lincoln Park, our local doggie park, there was a table set up with people and doggie food. There was water for the dogs and, if I recall, there was some Saint James' literature.

There were also dogs and cats, and their owners, skirting the Abraham Lincoln Abolition statue. The cats were huddled close and the dogs were circling, smelling cat everywhere.

After a while, a tall slender man approached. With a bald pate and his long black robes, he glided towards us, all smiles and spectacles. When he arrived, he opened his Tupperware container of holy water, filled a chalice, and then spattered our pets and us with his soaking aspergillium.

He was Father Richard Downing. Dick. Father D. From Saint James' Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill.

He told us a story as he also offered each pet a drink directly from the chalice. This was a new thing to do. Once a short while before that day, he was blessing a home in which there was an old dog. During the preparation for the blessing of the home, Father and the human owners of the home heard the heavy lap lap lapping of water. When they turned, the old dog was drinking Holy Water. Story goes that this pup lived on and on and on. So, our animals were each offered to drink from the bowl.

When Father came up to the three of us, one of the first things he told us was that Saint James' does nice weddings. He was charming and debonair, neither haughty nor rushed; he was friendly and intelligent, neither aloof nor aggressive.

When it was over, I said to Michelle, "he was so good with us and the dogs, I really want to catch his act," as though he were a comic or performer.

Its been three years, give or take, and I am the Saint James' Parish Webright as well as a member of the Saint James' Vestry.

Although I don't attend religiously, my heart is always there; since I am no longer a Roman Catholic (I officially converted a couple years ago), nobody at Saint James' can do a very good job of guilting me this way or that, either.

I am there of my own choice and am still there long after my ex Michelle changed churches and long after we broke up. I believe I am there for good, for God.

Father Richard Downing of Saint James' Capitol Hill Episcopal Church Anglo-Catholic

Father Downing Passed Away on February 11, 2021

This note was left on Facebook by Father David Simmons

"Today the church lost one of its greatest priests, Fr Richard Downing. He was an early advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights and a great priest in the Anglo-Catholic tradition at St James Capitol Hill. He is remembered for his ministry during the AIDS crisis.

I learned so much from him as his seminarian. Everything from calling my people “Beloved” to the way I celebrate Eucharist. He preached at my priestly ordination. Prayers for him and his beloved wife Patricia.

This photo, from Louis Loh, is a very recognizable picture of him preaching."


1. What is the significance of Saint Francis' Day mentioned in the story?
Saint Francis' Day celebrates the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, known for his love of animals and nature. It's customary in many churches to bless animals on or around this day.

2. Who was Father Richard Downing?
Father Richard Downing was a priest at Saint James' Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill, remembered for his advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights, his ministry during the AIDS crisis, and his inclusive approach to spirituality and community.

3. What is Saint James' Episcopal Church?
Saint James' Episcopal Church is an Episcopal church located on Capitol Hill, known for its Anglo-Catholic traditions, inclusive community, and active engagement in social issues.

4. What does it mean to be an Anglo-Catholic?
Anglo-Catholicism is a tradition within Anglicanism that emphasizes the Catholic heritage and liturgical practices of the Church of England, focusing on the sacraments, rituals, and aesthetic elements of worship.

5. How can animals participate in religious ceremonies like blessings?
In many Christian traditions, animals can be blessed by priests in a ceremony that recognizes their importance in God's creation and in human lives. This is often done on Saint Francis' Day but can occur at other times as well.

6. What is the role of a parish webwright?
A parish webwright is responsible for managing and creating content for a church's website, ensuring it reflects the church's mission, activities, and community.

7. How does one become a member of a church's vestry?
Vestry membership typically involves being elected by the congregation. The vestry acts as the church's governing body, responsible for financial decisions, property management, and supporting the church's mission.


Anglican: Referring to the Church of England and its related branches worldwide, characterized by a middle path between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Anglo-Catholic: A tradition within Anglicanism that emphasizes the Catholic heritage, including liturgical richness and sacramental worship.

Aspergillium: A liturgical tool used to sprinkle holy water during blessings and other religious ceremonies.

Episcopal Church: A mainline Christian denomination that is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, known for its liturgical worship and progressive stances on social issues.

Father Richard Downing: A priest remembered for his service, advocacy for LGBTQIA+ rights, and significant impact within the Episcopal Church and beyond.

Holy Water: Water that has been blessed by a priest for the purpose of spiritual cleansing, protection, and blessing.

Saint James' Episcopal Church: A parish within the Episcopal Church, located on Capitol Hill, known for its Anglo-Catholic tradition and community outreach.

Saint Francis' Day: A Christian feast day commemorating Saint Francis of Assisi, celebrated on October 4th, often associated with animal blessings.

Vestry: An elected group of church members who serve as the legal representatives and governing body of an Episcopal parish, responsible for financial affairs and supporting the church's mission.

Feb 03, 2003 01:30 PM