top of page
  • Reverend James Squire

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

One of the epic science fiction movies directed by Stephen Spielberg is Close Encounters of the Third Kind where an electrician, Roy Neary, has to respond to unsettling things that are happening to his son’s toys that seem to be operating on their own. Neary takes off in his truck, and discovers a UFO which flies over his truck causing him to have a sunburn. The story takes off from there as the inhabitants of the UFO attempt to communicate with earthlings. Later various missing people are released from the mothership. Eventually the inhabitants of the UFO select Roy Neary to enter their space ship. It was a long-cherished project for Spielberg and became a box office hit.

I haven’t had any encounters with unknown aliens, but I have had encounters with unknown people who were alienated from their own sense of self and others. Christ Chapel on the Merion Campus of EA was on the route of major pedestrian traffic on City Line Avenue. One of the faculty mentioned to a group of other faculty that Jim Squire would help anybody who wanders onto campus. She did not mean that as a compliment. It was a criticism. This was before the days of school shootings and calls for safety. Like most campuses, our campus had easy access back then.

Our school protocol was that if a troubled person entered the campus, there was a special code that our plant operations would use and then the person would be taken to my office. It is hard to believe that in our current culture that we could do school business in that fashion, but it was a different cultural time.

When the woman was escorted to my office, I was not there as I was at an off-campus meeting. There is an important lesson in what happened next. As I was returning from the off- campus meeting and making my way across campus, faculty were telling me that they were upset with what happened in my office. They hoped that the damage was not too bad. I didn’t know what they were talking about.

A woman had wandered onto campus and the plant operations people took her to my office and waited for me there with her. She made little sense to them. She sat in my office chair. The police were called and arrived. Then one additional policeman arrived. The woman went berserk when she saw the additional guy. She tore my office apart. But the big problem for me was that in her tirade, she knocked a cup of coffee onto to my computer and froze it. I learned then about services that people can use to restore hard drives at some expense to the school. She was taken to a psychiatric unit. When I talked with the police after all of this occurred, I asked them what triggered such a response. They told me that when the additional officer arrived that she went berserk. “What was he like, “I asked. They told me that he was big guy who filled my doorway.

Like some of our courageous police officers today who put their lives on the line, they didn’t understand basic issues of mental health. People who have lost touch with reality are more scared of someone who is them helping them than we are scared as the helpers. Their presentation of self can be scary and scare others. The size of the person scared this woman. I am convinced that if the big guy hadn’t arrived, everything would have gone more smoothly.

As you expect when the police arrived, the chapel was surrounded by students curious as to what was going on in there. One of those students was my son who wanted to go in and see if I was hurt. He didn’t know that I was off campus. The lesson here is when intervening in situations such as this, call the police, but make sure they have someone with them equipped with mental health skills. As you know, there is a movement in the nation for police forces to include mental health professionals as well. The message here is that intervention here required back up who knew what they were doing.

On another occasion, I was in my office during a Middle School Chapel service that was being conducted by one of my assistant chaplains. An administrator came to my office which is in the chapel and indicated that there was someone who was lying down in one of the back pews and wouldn’t get up. I told him that he should get everyone out of the chapel, and I would see what I could do.

When I went to where the individual was lying in the pew, I repeatedly told him to get up. One of the things that you are taught in counseling is that sometimes your size can frighten a patient. I am 6 feet 2 inches tall. When the gentleman finally stood up, he towered over me so my size wouldn’t scare him. He was very angry, but there is always a reason for the anger if you can follow the person’s narrative. He was angry that we were moving the campus to a new location. After the event I learned that he attended our Lower School for a short period of time. Hence, that comment and connection.

The more he talked, the angrier he got. I tried different ways to calm him down. Nothing worked. I knew the police were on their way. I thought I was the only one in the chapel with him when I felt a tapping on my back. When I turned my head around to see who it was, it was a member of my Religion Department, Kris Ryan, who was co-captain of Penn’s football team in 2001. Following Penn, he was drafted by the Detroit Lions but also received a master’s degree with distinction from Princeton Theological Seminary. His muscles had muscles indicating that he had spent considerable time in a weight room. He simply said, “Rev, I got your back!”

The lesson here is that sometimes needed back up comes in many different forms when you are unable to help someone. That day back up took the form of a running back.

When the police arrived, they took the person into custody. Later I learned that he didn’t get the psychiatric help that he needed. Denzel Washington did a better job than I did. View the attached video of both the intervention by Denzel and the video of the police description of what happened which follows it. Sometimes all it takes is a Good Samaritan, trained or untrained.

18 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page