Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 52 year old Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 150 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Monday, October 15, 2018

Your time, talent and treasure - Rector's Rambling for October 14, 2018


It is that uncomfortable time of the year, when we talk about money, and more importantly we talk about your money.
I have to admit that I do not like talking about money or asking for money.  If I talk to you about worship, prayer, study, moral choices, and parish involvement, and a variety of other things, but not your money, then I am not giving you the full picture of the life God is calling you to live.  It is a part of the big picture that we call Stewardship.
Stewardship, to put it simply, is how you use the blessings and talents you have to the Greater Glory of God.  It is a biblical way of thinking that begins with the gratitude that all that you are, and all that you have, is a gift from God.  King David, after listing the remarkable amount things he and the people of Israel donated for the building of the Temple, states, “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to offer so willingly after this sort? for all things come of thee, and of thine own have we given thee.” 1 Chronicles 29:14
If we live from an attitude of gratitude, then we will be learning to be generous in our giving of the three legs of Stewardship: Time, Talent, and Treasure.
Time is the giving of yourself to the parish and other worthy causes.  Showing up EVERY Sunday, being involved as an acolyte, altar guild member, usher, coffee hour host, prayer wall team member, or whatever opportunity may present itself is the giving of time.  Also, time spent in prayer for the parish, for the clergy, and for all around us is time well spent to His Honor and Glory.
Talent involves much of the activity listed above, as well as things which you have a special ability, and could be of help to the parish and community.  Plumber?  Electrician?  Teacher?  Coordinator for outings or activities?  What is some ability that you may have, that we haven’t even thought of, that may be of help here to Glorify God?  No thing is too little to God.
 And of course, there is the giving of your treasure, which is a financial donation to the church for our operating expenses, ministries, and presence in the community.  Remembering that it is God who gives us the ability to work and earn an income, we donate to His Church in gratitude.  The biblical image is the Tithe, the first 10% of your income.  If you are not at that level you can resolve to work towards it.  This is for many a very hard thing to let go of (after all, who doesn’t want or need more money?)  But of course that is exactly why we need to learn to give – we need to trust that God will continue to provide for your needs.

Four years ago Bruce Burton, our Senior Warden, predicted when we signed our lease with Olympia, that people would ramp down their contributing to the parish because of the outside payment we receive.  The first three years that was not true, and although we were behind in budgeted contributions for the first half of the year, we are now catching up with anticipated levels of giving.  Thank you to all who have continued to be generous in their support of St. John’s.
I understand the temptation to say to yourself “St. John’s doesn’t need my money because they get it from the lease”.  But actually, YOU need to GIVE the money as an exercise in gratitude for what God has entrusted to you.  Giving to St. John’s is a way for you to show that gratitude to Him.
     As you know, we are in the midst of a renovation of the ministry center, and will be renovating the kitchen and undercroft in the coming months.  This is to help position us for ministry opportunities that are beginning to present themselves as our neighborhood is being renewed and reinvigorated.  That project is being paid for with a signing bonus from the lease, savings over the last three years lease payments, a large gift from one parish family, and many other gifts from parishioners.  Opportunities will be presented soon to sponsor portions of the new facility and furnishings.  This would be above and beyond our support of the regular ministry of the parish through the Stewardship Campaign.
Let’s be sure to pray how God can help you to be grateful and generous, and then fill out a pledge card for 2019.  Thank you in advance.

Monday, October 08, 2018

St. Francis - Rector's Rambling for October 7, 2018


This past Thursday we celebrated the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of what is now known as the Franciscans.
Photos of the Blessing of Animals in honor St. Francis make the rounds this time of the year.  St. Francis himself is frequently depicted with birds, and perhaps what looks like a dog, because he once preached to the birds, and tamed a wolf that was terrorizing a town.  He is much beloved by those who love the soft image of one who blesses pets and makes people feel good about their animal companions.
But those two incidents are a very small part of the life of a remarkable man called to a unique life and ministry, one which has never been fully imitated by his many followers over the centuries.  To say St. Francis was extreme in following the Gospel would be to put it mildly.  He read “Sell all that you have and give it to the poor and follow me”, so he did, and lived in abject voluntary poverty all the rest of his life.  He read “the son of man has no place to lay his head”, so he lived as one homeless, sleeping on the floors of churches.  When he heard Jesus tell him from the cross to “rebuild my church”, he at first took it literally to fix the dilapidated structure he was praying in, until he realized it was a bigger mission of the CHURCH, not just the building.  And when he prayed that God would use him as a living example of Christ’s suffering for our salvation, he received the marks of the crucifixion on his own body (see painting above).
His life had a unique charism, and he has inspired many people to follow Jesus more closely.  His radical reliance on God’s grace and provision would be terrifying to most of us.  But his example to be detached from THINGS that draw us from the love of God should motivate us to evaluate our priorities.  And Francis’ unmitigated love for Jesus and unabashed joy, should motivate us to a deeper love and joy as well!


Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Bishop's visit - Rector's Rambling for September 23, 2018



Today we welcome our successor to the apostles, our sign of unity of the church in Metropolitan Detroit.  The Right Reverend Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr., is our celebrant and preacher today, as well as the one who will confer the Sacrament of Confirmation. 
When God began to push me towards considering coming to St. John’s to be your parish priest, I went to speak with my then diocesan bishop in Pittsburgh.  He, like the two bishops of Quincy who ordained me deacon and priest, was a real father in God to me.   When I laid out to Bishop Duncan my sense that God may be calling me to consider coming to Detroit, he advised me that I should meet the new diocesan bishop here.  “Make sure he will be supportive of your ministry as a traditional Anglo-catholic” I was advised.
Bishop Gibbs had been consecrated months before, but had recently become the diocesan bishop when I called and asked if I could meet him on the day I would later be meeting with the Search Committee here at St. John’s.  After a short time on hold the Bishop agreed to fit me in that morning.
I later found out that the diocese had not been informed yet by St. John’s that they were beginning to interview candidates for Rector.   After a long interim period the time seemed right, and thanks be to God Bishop Gibbs was willing to let things out ‘of the norm’ occur, and God moved both our hearts (and those of the Search Committee and Vestry) to call me here to be your priest.
Now we fast forward nearly 18 years later and we receive once again Bishop Gibbs for his official visit, which will be his last official visit before he retires in December of 2019.  No one would have ventured a guess when we met on the November morning in 2000 what the next 18 years would hold.   9/11, ongoing war overseas, four presidential election cycles, The District Detroit plan, and the renewal of Detroit though the building of 2 of the 3 sports venues have all happened in the time of our mutual ministry.  And who would have thought on that day that I would now be the priest serving the second longest time in one position in the diocese?
Hopefully we can have The Bishop back to bless the new buildings, but for now we pray in Thanksgiving for labor  with us in this part of the vineyard.


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Baptism Sunday - Rector's Rambling for September 16, 2018


Today and next Sunday are sacramental milestones for St. John’s Church, and also will be remembered.
This morning we have the great grace to baptize four people!  Two are of children, following our Lord’s admonition to “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14 [“Suffer” meaning to allow, to permit, or not to forbid or hinder.])  The late Fr. Louis Tarsitano wrote in his book “An Outline of an Anglican Life: Lessons in the Faith and Practice of the Anglican Church”:
Remember, God does the work in all sacraments, so children were circumcised under his commandment in the Old Testament, including his only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ (Luke 2:21).  It is pure arrogance for human beings to declare that children are not called by God to new life in him.  Thus, following the commandment of our Lord and the consistent Scriptural witness of God’s good will towards children, the Apostles baptized entire households, including the children, from the first days of the Church (Acts 10:48; Acts 16:15; Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:16).
The two other baptisms are of adults, and I think that their circumstance will become more and more common in the Church.  Neither baptized as children, they grew up on the periphery of, or outside the church, but God in His great providence has brought them into this New Covenant with himself through their newfound faith.  Through an interesting set of circumstances they have entered our fellowship, and I think that this will become a more common occurrence in the future.
Church attendance, and denominational fidelity, have declined precipitously in the last 46 years.  In 1972 less than 10% of those surveyed said they “Never Attended” church services.  In 2016 that number was over 25%.  More and more people, particularly the younger people brought up outside of the Church, know little to nothing about the Faith in Jesus Christ that saves us from sin and death.
Today we celebrate four new members of the body of Christ, and pray that we learn ways to attract people into a relationship with Jesus Christ through the interpersonal relationships that open hearts and minds to hear Jesus and to follow Him.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

That terrible day - Rector's Rambling for September 9, 2018


Seventeen years have passed since that most horrific tragedy struck the American nation.  On September 11, we will once again recall that terrible day, when our country was attacked by those who hijacked airplanes and slammed them into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth plane was taken down by a passenger rebellion before it could strike another symbol of American commerce or government.
I remember before that day listening to people say, “where were you when _____” (fill in the blank with an historic event).  Although I could remember Nixon’s resignation, and Reagan’s and Pope John Paul II’s shootings, I did not have the poignant moments of the Kennedy assassinations, Dr. Martin Luther King, or the first walk on the moon (I am too young for those).
But, like so many of us here, I remember vividly and painfully hearing on the radio about the first plane crash, watching on TV the second one, and then the third while I drove in to St. John’s.  Within the next two hours, downtown Detroit became a ghost town as employers sent people home, since no one could concentrate on anything but what was happening in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.  And, of course, there was the fear that another attack would happen here or in Chicago.
The world changed on that day.  Seventeen years later, we still have troops deployed in an unstable Iraq and Afghanistan, the threat of the Taliban has been superseded by ISIS, and our interaction with allies and foes has been colored by the events of that day.
The other thing I remember about that week was how the country turned with earnest prayer to God.  Attendance at worship spiked, public prayer vigils were held (I officiated at several), and people turned for answers, comfort, and relief to the One who is bigger than all these things and events.  But it didn’t last.  Before long, we were back to bitter bickering in politics, and slackening attendance at worship.  Would that we could be as united, and worshipful, without a critical event to push us into it.
May God continue to bless us as a nation, even with our shortcomings and failings as human beings.  God is still good, all the time.


Monday, September 03, 2018

Labor Day weekend - Rector's Rambling for September 2, 2018


This year Labor Day falls  early as on the calendar as, the first Monday of September being the 3rd this year.  And Summer held on to the very end as the hot weather lingered for one last week as well to make it all a festive last hurrah of outside activity.
After taking time to pray and give thanks on Labor Day for Labor and Industry in our country, we move forward on Tuesday into the start of autumn, at least mentally.  The children return to school and here at St. John’s we look forward to the return of our wonderful full choir next Sunday.  Our Sunday School and Adult Education programming resume on Sunday next as well, and we are also busy preparing for the Bishop’s visit to us on Sunday, September 23rd!
Although I write this column on Monday or Tuesday, I anticipate that many will be away today, getting in that last holiday vacation. I got away for a few days midweek and I have the extra joy and privilege of getting to do a wedding tonight! 
But I also hope that next week will bring a renewed emphasis on being regular about Sunday worship attendance.  I know that people travel during the summer, and that for a few with health issues the heat prevents them from being with us during the summer.
We have to make the commitment to make attending worship the #1 priority on your Sunday morning schedule.  The world is pressing on and scheduling alternative activities on Sunday morning, a time-slot that even secular society respected as sacrosanct even a few years ago.
Stand up!  Be counted for Christ!  Come to Church on Sunday!
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Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who declarest thy glory and showest forth thy handiwork in the heavens and in the earth; Deliver us, we beseech thee, in our several callings, from the service of mammon, that we may do the work which thou givest us to do, in truth, in beauty, and in righteousness, with singleness of heart as thy servants, and to the benefit of our fellow men; for the sake of him who came among us as one that serveth, thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
~ 1928 Book of Common Prayer, p. 44


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Community events around us - Rector's Rambling for August 26, 2018


This past week I had the opportunity to participate in several events here in our neighborhood around St. John’s Church.
On Tuesday, I was a part of the grand opening of the new Mike Ilitch School of Business building for Wayne State University.  It is located just to the north of the new arena, about four blocks away from St. John’s.
The new school building is a gift to Wayne State from the Ilitch family, and is a part of the overall development of what is called the District Detroit.  The Little Caesars Arena is the most prominent feature of the neighborhood development.  But office space has been added and companies like Google have moved into ancillary space at the arena.  Other buildings are being renovated or constructed for commerce and residential use.  More construction is slated for the coming years, including buildings in the parking lots in front of Comerica Park, including our parking lot on the side of the church.  It is exciting to be a part of the development of the neighborhood.
Yesterday, we hosted a fundraiser for Jack’s Place for Autism.  St. John’s supports Jack’s Place with some of our outreach funding, and we also host them for a Tigers Opening Day tailgate with the Tigers Fantasy Campers.  This was a new event, with three Detroit Tiger players – Matthew Boyd, Nick Castellanos, and Michael Fulmer –  scheduled to be at St. John’s to sign autographs for this charity.  Several St. John’s folks were present to welcome the Tigers and the guests, to answer questions about St. John’s, and even give tours of the sanctuary.  Kudos to vestryman Rod Gillespie for his relationship with Jack’s Place, Jim Price, and the Detroit Tigers organization.
We are always looking for ways to interact with organizations in the neighborhood, particularly those doing good for others.  As we finish construction of the new ministry center, and then the undercroft, we hope to host even more groups and make more opportunities for these organizations to expand their outreach, as well as invite them into a relationship with the Lord through the ministry we do here at St. John’s.
These are exciting times to be in downtown Detroit, and we look forward to the coming months and years as we expand our membership base and community interaction!