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, August 13, 2018

St. Mary's Feast this week - Rector's Rambling for August 12, 2018


This week we will celebrate the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin.  This Feast is a relative newcomer to the Anglican Calendar, but has ancient roots in both the Western and Eastern Churches, and is worth celebrating!
The icon pictured is from the Eastern Orthodox tradition for this week’s Feast.  For the Orthodox this is known as the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, or the Feast of the Falling Asleep of the God-bearer.  For the Western (Roman Catholic) Churches the Feast is known as the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Both titles deal with the historical fact of the end of the earthly life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of God.
For Anglicans we call this celebration the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin.  We celebrate the important role that she plays in the story of our salvation.  It is by her agreeing to the message of the Archangel Gabriel that she conceives in her womb Jesus by the Holy Ghost.  She gives birth to him, nurses him, and raises him to follow the original covenant between God and the people of the Hebrews.  She is present throughout his earthly ministry, stands at the foot of the cross when he dies for our sins, she is a witness to the Resurrection, and she is present at Pentecost when God the Holy Ghost empowers his follows to be The Church to the world.  There is no other human being that can be counted as more faithful to him throughout his earthly life.  For that we celebrate her and give thanks to God for her.
For the Eastern and Western Churches, this feast deals with extra-biblical events of her death and assumption into heaven.  Although the bible does not mention her death, we can assume that in fact she did die (all humans do).  And both churches, in their own ways, describe Mary being reunited in heaven with her son Jesus as we all will also be with him at the end of time in the general resurrection of the dead.
Although we do not have the emphasis on these latter events because they are not explicitly detailed in Scripture (and therefore not required for belief for salvation), they can be helpful in reminding us about the role Mary played in bringing Jesus into the world, and hopeful in what the reward of faith in him is to us at the end of earthly life.


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Malawi Update - Rector's Rambling for August 5, 2018


One of the ongoing ministries of St. John’s is the support of the Church in Malawi, Central Africa.  Bishop Jackson Biggers, the retired diocesan of the diocese of Northern Malawi is a long time friend of St. John’s, and we treasure our memories of his many visits with us.
Recently, Fr. Bedford had a chance to speak on the phone with the good bishop, and relayed this note to be published:
Bishop Jackson Biggers sends thanks for our latest donation to the secondary school in Malawi.  Designated gifts and the open offerings on the first Sunday of each month add up!  Bishop Biggers tells Father Bedford that a new 5-year plan is being developed by the school that will provide needed direction and also encourage supporters, such as St John’s, to greater involvement.  Our U.S. Dollars have “multiplier” buying power when converted into Malawi dollars.  Father Bedford hopes our latest gift of $1600 will allow work to begin again on the science labs, which had been suspended due to lack of funds.  Please remember to support the church in Malawi with a loose cash donation on the first Sunday of the month.
 I too would encourage you to be generous of your continued support of the Church in Malawi.
Worldwide, there are more Anglicans (our international communion) in Africa than in the US, Canada, or England.  In many ways the Church in Africa, through her hardship and even martyrdom, has flourished in the faith!


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Partying like it's 1859 (or 1789) - Rector's Rambling for July 29, 2018


I remember in college hearing the expression “The Past is Prelude”, and it still strikes me as quite profound.  All of our past is the introduction to our current identity, and contributes to the story of our future as well.
We are blessed with a wonderful prelude here at St. John’s, and today we celebrate that by honoring the founders of our parish.  As the Psalmist exclaims, “(we) have a goodly heritage” (16:7).  Henry Porter Baldwin and his neighbors started something wonderful out in the countryside, beyond the then city borders.  That foundation, conceived in hope and faithfulness, is our prelude.
We got off to a good start, growing rapidly as the area became enveloped by the city itself.  But within 50 years the area surrounding this Victorian Gothic structure had completely changed from rural to residential and then to commercial.  With the changes came challenges as well as new opportunities for mission and ministry.  Attendance peaked in the late 1920s (average Sunday attendance of 2500 people, membership of 4000).  But neighborhood decline began during the depression, and accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s.  By the 1950s attendance was down below 1000, and shortly before the year 2000 attendance bottomed out at an average of 37 people per Sunday.
By God’s grace the neighborhood has greatly improved, and membership at St. John’s has increased since 2000.  The opening of the new stadiums (2000, 2003) and the new arena (2017), as well as the overall improvement in housing options and the popularity of downtown office space has helped St. John’s to regain its footing and develop new ministry opportunities.
The heart of that prelude that defines us is none other than the unchanging Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the expression of the faith expressed in the traditional Episcopal (Anglican) Book of Common Prayer.
As our first Rector wrote, “As Christians and as Churchman, we thank GOD for our strong assurance and conviction, drawn on past history, that the Protestant Episcopal Church, for whose communion this building will be reared, is so grounded on the one foundation, JESUS CHRIST, so true to Him, in the ministry, the doctrine, the Liturgy, the sacred year, the entire system which she has inherited; so careful of His complete Gospel; holding each and every part thereof, in its own due proportion and harmony; that however we and those who shall follow us may prove unworthy of her and of her Lord, among all the changes and chances of this world, she will remain, in all essential things unchanged.”
So important when written in 1860, and as important for us today as well.  Thank God for this goodly heritage.


Monday, July 23, 2018

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


Every three years the Bishop of the Diocese is required, by canon law, to visit this parish.  Bishop Gibbs has visited us more often than that, and we are grateful to have his support for this ministry.  His next visit is scheduled for Sunday, September 23.
All visits from the bishop are special events.  His office represents the unity of the larger church since he represents the office and ministry of the apostles themselves.  At most of his visits he administers the Sacrament of Confirmation and receives those who have come to us confirmed in other denominations with valid apostolic orders.  He will do this this year and CLASSES START AUGUST 5 to prepare for Confirmation and Reception by the Bishop.  See the insert in the Order of Service for more information and to sign up for classes.
This time the bishop’s visit will be special for two more reasons.  The first is that while he is here we will have him bless the new cornerstone of the ministry center (previously known as the ugly 1971 office building).  Although it will not be complete (target date for completion is around Thanksgiving), the bishop will re-seal in the items from the 1971 time capsule, insert new items of interest for a 2018 time capsule, and throw some Holy Water around for good measure.
The other special thing about this visit from Bishop Gibbs is that it will be his last official visit to St. John’s.  As previously noted, he announced his retirement effective December of 2019.  Yes, that seems a long way away, but it is a long process in preparing to elect a successor, and allows Bishop Gibbs time to wrap up details and obligations of the ministry to which he was consecrated in 2000.
On September 23, we will welcome Bishop Gibbs, and will also be using that day as our fall Homecoming Sunday.  Mark your calendars now and plan on inviting your friends, neighbors, and family members to join us for beautiful worship, an outstanding potluck luncheon, and a hearty “thanks be to God” for the ministry Bishop Gibbs has had with and to us.
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Please note that next Sunday is our 10th Annual Founders’ Day.  We will be using the Liturgy from the 1789 Book of Common Prayer, which was in use when St. John’s opened her doors in 1859.  After the liturgy we will have an Ice Cream Social out in the parish garden (weather permitting).  And as we have done in years past, we encourage historic dress if you have it, and hats are always a big hit for women in and out of church, and for the men afterwards.  It is a good day to give thanks to God for the goodly heritage built for us by the faithful these 159 years.


Monday, July 16, 2018

Post St. Mike's Glow - Rector's Rambling for July 15, 2018


As I say every year, I thank God for the St. Michael’s Conference for Youth, and also Thank God it is over for another year.
It has been a great week, which I can write with confidence even though I am writing this before the week even begins.  I can say this in anticipation of the week because every year it is a remarkable time of prayer, fellowship, and faith-building, as it has been for the last twenty years at the Midwest Conference, and the two years on staff at the East Coast Conference.
This year we had many new Conferees joining us – 12-year-olds attending the conference for the first time.  And amazingly, one of the 12-year-olds attending the conference is the daughter of two people who were high school age attendees at that first conference I was working at in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts in 1993.  That was a good week for me because at the end of that week I met my wife Jennifer (she came back to visit as an alumnae the last evening), and those two high school kids would eventually marry.  He was the son of my wife’s parish priest in Sturgis, Michigan, and she was the daughter of the priest in Swartz Creek, Michigan.  Her dad would, a few years later, start the Midwest Conference!  It is a small interwoven world!
St. Michael’s Conference has been lovingly referred to as Anglo-Catholic Boot Camp.  The schedule is rigorous: Solemn High Mass every morning, three classes in the morning, free time in the afternoon, Solemn Evensong every evening, discussion groups after dinner, and then a fun evening activity, ranging from square-dancing to various games made up by the counselors to combine team building and learning.  The day winds down with Compline (the nighttime prayer office of the church) and the kids go to bed tired, but happy.
We have one purpose for the St. Michael’s Conference: to teach the Conferees about Jesus and help them to love Him and His Church.  In fact, on the first day, Father Director tells the kids that they are not there to have fun.  They are there to learn about Jesus and his Church, and to become good churchman.  But if they put first things first, they will in fact have fun and make great friends.  This has proven true year after year.
Thank you to the many members of St. John’s who have supported the conference with their prayers and financial contributions.  Both of these are absolutely vital to the continued success of the conference.  We are training up the Church of today and the future, and the hope for the continuance of traditional Anglicanism rests on this and future generations learning the Truth about Jesus Christ so that they can embrace it, and share it.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

General Convention - Rector's Rambling for July 8, 2018


This past week The General Convention of the Episcopal Church got underway.  This is the every-three-year gathering of representatives from dioceses of the Church, as well as the bishops, to do the legislative work of the Church.  Information on the structure of the Convention can be found in the teaching notes on page 4.
The General Convention came into being because of the Revolutionary War.  After our Independence from England, what was left of the Church of England in the new nation was now without an authority structure.  No Bishops had been consecrated for the Church in the colonies, and those who desired ordination to the priesthood had to go back to England to do so.  Bishops were appointed by the King, and made decisions in counsel for the common good of the Church.  Bishops, as well as priests and deacons, in the ordination service had to acquiesce to the Articles of Religion, including an oath of allegiance to the King of England (something these new American Citizens could not do).
So the remnant of the Church of England in the United States had to figure out a way to work together for the propagation of the faith, and how the Church itself would be administered.
After much debate, a constitution and canons were adopted laying out how the governance of the Church was to take place.  The Apostolic Ministry of Bishops would continue, but the bishops would be elected at a convention of their diocese, as with the agreement of the majority of other bishops of the church and the standing committees of each diocese.
The General Convention is the every-three-year meeting to discuss mission priorities and how to fund them, as well as deal with issues confronting the Church.  This year, one big point of discussion will be the possibility of the revision of a new prayer book in the coming year (we will stick to the 1928, thank you), as well as continued discussion about human sexuality.
On paper, the idea of the General Convention seems a good way to govern a church: men and women seeking to love and glorify Jesus being elected by their local conventions to represent the needs and mind of the local church to the national body.  In reality, politics have been rife since the beginning, with people of differing churchmanship (High Church v. Low Church) pressing for the church to adopt or reject legislation to their liking.  In recent decades, people have come to General Convention to change the core doctrinal teachings of the church, and over the years, many have been eroded away by their persistence.
Pray for The Episcopal Church, that at convention the delegates may make wise decisions to the greater glory of God, not their own desires or agendas.


Monday, July 02, 2018

Nothing new in politics - Rector's Rambling for July 1, 2018


This week our country celebrates our Independence as a nation.  Although the date we celebrate has to do with our declaration that we are a people free from the English Crown, it would still be many years until that was won by military victory with the surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781.  After a failed attempt at a loose confederacy of states, our Constitution was written in 1787 and not completely ratified until 1791.  The new government was installed in 1789 when 11 of the 14 states had approved its use, with North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Vermont adding their consent afterwards.
I am a history buff, particularly colonial history.  Having lived in Philadelphia for nine years, I was immersed in things colonial, not just for historical facts, but also for the observation of the human condition and human desires.  Although we know the squeaky clean version of our striving for independence, in fact it was quite messy.  Good men and women disagreed honestly and faithfully on whether or not the colonies should separate, and then after the war for independence had deeply held convictions that led to disagreements about how to form a new government “by and for” the people of this new country.
In recent years the wildly popular Broadway play HAMILTON has brought a new interest in this time period, through a rap music medium.  Although there are a few historical anomalies in the script, it lays out an intriguing look at the life of founder, and first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.  Our financial system still rests upon much of his work nearly 230 years ago.
In the play we are introduced to the first bishop of the Episcopal Church, Samuel Seabury (not identified as a priest in the musical) who disagrees with the push for independence, and we see deeply held disagreements between Hamilton and Jefferson about how this new federal government and financial system should work.  Backstabbing and skullduggery were not unusual then between disagreeing political groups.  Even George Washington’s campaign for re-election found the beloved founding father being slandered.  John Adams served only one term because opposition attacked him and the tight federal system promoted by some founders.  Other founders with contrary opinion came to leadership and found themselves attacked too.
And despite the back and forth of leadership style, opinion, and counter-opinion, and all the maliciousness that human beings have mustered throughout every generation, this Union and government continues, I believe, by God’s anointing.  And if you don’t agree with something, vote and work for change as we have since 1776.