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

Thursday, December 13, 2018

O come, o come Emmanuel - Rector's Rambling for December 16, 2018


Next Sunday we will sing the classic Advent hymn – O come, O come, Emmanuel, number 2 in the Hymnal 1940.  It sums up the hopes of the people of Israel that God would send a Saviour.  Each verse of the hymn is a paraphrase of a Latin antiphon to be said at Daily Evening Prayer before the first canticle, The Magnificat.  It is yet another wonderful way the Church is counting down to the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas).
Why am I writing about this hymn here?  Because the days assigned for each verse begin today, December 16.
Listed below are the antiphons for the proper days, with the verses in the hymn to which they correspond:
12/16 – O Wisdom, which camest out of the mouth of the most High, and reachest from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence. (v.2)
12/17 – O Adonai, and Leader of the house of Israel, who appearest in the bush to Moses in a flame of fire, and gavest him the law in Sianai: come and redeem us with an outstreached arm. (v.3)
12/18 – O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at whom kings shall shout their mouths, unto whom the Gentile shall seek: come and deliver us, and tarry not. (v.4)
12/19 – O Key of David, and Scepter of the House of Israel; that openest and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth: Come, and bring the prisoners out of the prison-house, them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death. (v.5)
12/20 – O Day-spring, Brightness of the Light everlasting, and Sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death. (v. 6)
12/21 – O King of Nations, and their Desire; the Cornerstone, who makest both one: Come and save mankind, whom thou formedst of clay. (v. 7)
12/22 – O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, and Desire of all nations and their Salvation: Come and save us, O Lord our God. (v.1)
12/23 – O Virgin of Virgins, how shall this be? For neither before thee was any seen like thee, nor shall there be after.  Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?  The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery
Be sure to pray each of these verses every night, and perhaps sing the hymn version too.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

End of a ministry - Rector's Rambling for December 9, 2018



A hard decision was recently made to end a 20-year ministry.  After multiple changes by the host institution, and glitches resulting from them, the Sunday Holy Communion Service at Independence Village in Plymouth has come to an end.
Over four years ago I was asked to become a part of this ministry.  The ministry was started by Fr. Patrick Lowery, at that time a priest of the Anglican Church of America.  It was his parish, with a weekly Mass on Sunday morning that was not only to the residents of the retirement community, but also a weekly traditional 1928 Communion Service to people in the larger Plymouth area.
When Fr. Lowery became a priest in the Russian Orthodox Church he had to end his affiliation with the ministry because of their rules forbidding the celebration of the Holy Communion outside of a consecrated church building.  Next, a priest from the Polish National Catholic Church led the services for a few years before his retirement and move to Florida.
It was at this point that Fr. Lowery (whom I have known for over 20 years) and Mr. David Sharpe contacted me about helping to keep the ministry going.  David and Janette Sharpe were among the founding members of that ministry, having come from the old Incarnation Church (originally Episcopal, then Orthodox).  Several of our current members here at St. John’s were members at Incarnation before it closed.  And the organist at the service was the great-aunt of our parishioner Dennis Lennox.
Because I am here on Sunday morning, we were able to move the service to 1:30 PM every other week, yet that put us in conflict with afternoon clean up and events.  But the 20 to 40 people showing up weekly were appreciative of the opportunity to pray, sing hymns, and most importantly, to receive the Blessed Sacrament.
I hope in the new year we will find another location to restart this ministry, perhaps closer to St. John’s.  Suggestions are welcome.


Tuesday, December 04, 2018

A New Year again - Rector's Rambling for December 2, 2018


Every year on January 1, we go over our list of New Year’s Resolutions – all those things that we are planning on doing for the coming year to improve our health and live a better life.  An example of this is how full the local gym is that first week or two of the new year.  However, by the third or fourth week of the year, the wait for your favorite calorie burning machine has shortened considerably.
Today the Liturgical New Year starts.  The four Sundays before the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity (Christmas) are the weeks when the Church prepares for the great Feast with a time of penitence and fasting, although not to the same extent as in Lent.  The new year starts today as we begin the year long cycle of the life of the Church and more importantly the life of our Lord.
For four weeks we will be in purple (the color of penitence –- a state of sorrow for sin) and will concentrate on preparing for the promise of the birth of the Saviour, as well as his return again to judge the world.
December 25 (actually at sundown on the 24th) we start the celebration of the 12 days of Christmas, and then on January 6 we celebrate the Magi (the wise men) visiting Jesus and begin the season of the Epiphany – the manifestation of Jesus as Saviour to the gentiles as well as the Jews.
This year Easter falls on April 21 which is based on a lunar calendar, so February 17 is the beginning of the pre-Lenten season called the Gesima Season for the names of the three Sundays before Lent.  This is a time of transition.  Then Ash Wednesday this year is March 6.  This is the time of deeper fasting and penitence in preparation for Holy Week and then the Resurrection.
Eastertide is also a season!  We spend 40 days in Lent and we also get 40 days of celebration in Easter, with 10 more between Jesus’ Ascension and the gift of the Holy Ghost (Pentecost or Whitsunday).  Then we take two Sundays to celebrate the Trinity and the Blessed Sacrament before starting Trinity Season all over again.
Of course, we preface looking forward by saying, “God willing”!


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thankfulness - Rector's Rambling for November 25, 2018


We have a lot to be grateful for at St. John’s Church.  On Thursday we celebrated the National Holiday of Thanksgiving, but as people who follow Jesus Christ, we are to be thankful people all the time.  It is an attitude of gratitude.
I recently had a discussion with a parishioner going through several health challenges, and she mentioned she was starting to identify more closely with Job than any other person in Scripture.  It has been one thing after another in the past year for her.  But as we continued our conversation, we were able to turn toward some positive things that have been going on in her life, and before long, the room seemed to lighten up.  Yes, her woes were still real and present, but she also came to realize that in fact she was the beneficiary of many blessings as well in her time of trial.
Another parishioner witnessed in his recovery from a bad fall that he sensed the power of God’s presence and prayers received in a tangible way because his accident caused him to slow down, listen, and pay attention.  Although he certainly doesn’t want to repeat the fall, nor do we think God pushed him off the ladder to get his attention, good did come from his time recovering from his accident.
Gratitude is a powerful weapon against malaise and non-clinical depression.  It is all too easy for us to get caught up in our “woe-is-me” attitude, and lose sight of the many other ways that God is active and at work in our lives.  The old children’s hymn, “Count your blessings, count them one by one” certainly does apply here.
Christianity is not about the power of positive thinking, nor is it Pollyanna-ish in ignoring hard times and painful things.  But mixed in with having to take up our cross to follow Jesus is the assurance that he takes our yoke upon himself as well, and, in fact, He has shouldered the heavier burden by paying the price for our sins.
Thanksgiving, for us, is all year long.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"insider" Episcopalian stuff - Rector's Rambling for November 18, 2018


Today we have an interesting mix.  Although we are still in Trinitytide, the Sundays after Trinity, we are doing the readings today for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany.  Why?
Remember that we have a church calendar based on a lunar cycle, just as the ancient Hebrews did as well.  Although Feasts like Christmas are on a set date (December 25), the Feast of the Resurrection, better known as Easter, is set by a formula based on the lunar calendar.  The section of the Prayer Book about the calendar says this:
EASTER DAY, on which the rest depend, is always the First Sunday after the Full Moon, which happens upon or next after the Twenty-first Day of March; and if the Full Moon happen upon a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday after.
But Note, That the Full Moon, for the purposes of these Rules and Tables, is the Fourteenth Day of a Lunar Month, reckoned according to an ancient Ecclesiastical computation, and not the real or Astronomical Full Moon. (p. l)
And if you find that confusing, try reading on page lii how to find the date of Easter using the Golden Number, a confusing 4 paragraphs which is now basically superseded by asking Siri, “What date is Easter next year?” or typing it into Google.
Because Easter was relatively early this year, we have run out of readings appointed for Sundays in Trinitytide.  There are only 25 and the last one is always the Sunday next before Advent.  But because Easter was early, it means the –gesima (Pre-Lenten) Sundays started early, and therefore we had lessons not used back in February.  Ta Dah!  That is why the lessons appointed for today are from the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany.  In fact, it says so on page 224 in the Prayer Book:
If in any year there be twenty-six Sundays after Trinity, the service for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany shall be used on the Twenty-fifth Sunday.
I am grateful for the worship set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The lust for power and possessions - Rector's Rambling for November 11, 2018


One hundred years ago today this was the scene at Campus Martius on Woodward Avenue (where now is located a park and ice skating rink), when throngs of people poured into the streets to celebrate the end of the “war to end all wars”.
World War I was a most horrific event.  The entire European Continent was embroiled in conflict, as Britain, France, Italian, and Russian Allies fought off the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Turkish Axis powers.  The United States would join in the last year of fighting, but the Russians withdrew because of their own devastating Bolshevik revolution.
When Armistice Day finally arrived on November 11, 1918, over sixteen million citizens and soldiers were among the dead.  Such mechanical “advances” as the airplane, armored vehicle, and reliable machine gun, combined with the devastating concept of trench warfare, made for a most deadly and destructive form of combat.  By 1918 the world was weary and ready to work (or so it seemed at the time) to prevent such a thing from ever happening again.
The failed League of Nations (a precursor organization to the United Nations), and onerous war reparations imposed by the victors, caused economic disaster and fermented the rise of both Communist and National Socialist movements that then led to the dictatorships which took us back into world-wide war 21 years later.
But ultimately, war has, at it’s root, the sinful lust for power and possessions.  St. James wrote, From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?  Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.  Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (James 4:1–3)
True for individuals, and true for nations.  May God help us all.


Monday, November 05, 2018

The Great Equalizer - Rector's Rambling for November 4, 2018


It is the time of the year that we think about death.  On November 1, and again today, we celebrate the lives of the saints, those holy women and men who glorified God in their earthly lives, died, and now are with Jesus in heaven.  On November 2, we celebrated a special Requiem Mass in the Chapel of Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, the resting place of the earthly remains of the overwhelming majority of our parishioners who died in the first 70 years of our parish history.  On All Souls’ Day we remember all the faithful departed, including our own loved ones.
Shortly after I arrived at St. John’s, we received a bill for plot upkeep from Elmwood.  No one in the office knew why.  Stopped by the cemetery and discovered that the plot for our first Rector, William Armitage, was entrusted to our care by the last living relative in the 1980s.  I also then discovered the monument to our parish founder, Henry Porter Baldwin (pictured here).  Since then I have become a member of the Historic Elmwood Cemetery Foundation which develops educational projects such as history tours, establishing the property as an arboretum, and restoring things such as the chapel (designed and built by the same firm that designed and built St. John’s).
One thing confounded me as I studied our burial register from those early years.  Those not buried at Elmwood were usually buried at the “City Cemetery”, but I could find no location for it.  I later discovered it was the pauper’s cemetery for those who could not afford a plot at Elmwood.  It was located where Eastern Market now operates.
From 1880 to 1882 over 4500 bodies were disinterred from that former burial spot and reinterred in common grave at Elmwood Cemetery.  What a wonderful irony that even those who could not afford Elmwood, were now buried there as well.
Death is a great equalizer.  Not all will have the grand monuments or the above-ground mausoleums of the wealthy, but at the General Resurrection, when the earth and the sea shall give up their dead (Book of Common Prayer, p. 333), it will not be how and where one is buried that will determine our eternal habitation, but our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.