Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 51 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

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Deeper yet - Rector's Rambling for March 18, 2018

Today we go yet another step deeper in our preparations for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Back during the -gesima Sundays we switched to purple vestments and hangings and lost the “alleluia” in the liturgy.  When Lent arrived the flowers disappeared (except for Lætáre Sunday last week) as did the white surplices on the servers and choir.
Now we go deeper with the beginning of Passiontide, as we veil the crosses in the church, and see the “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost” suppressed in our increasing Lenten fast.  And when we get to the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday) the liturgy gets even more stark on those days.
Why?  “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” is a statement that what we pray is what we believe (literally “the Law of Prayer is the Law of Belief).  Our corporate worship, particularly the Daily Offices of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, as well as the Holy Communion, helps us to express what we believe.  And yet in Lent we strip things back as a tangible reminder that soon we will be looking at the sublime reminder of the painful price Jesus Christ paid on the cross for our salvation.
During these two weeks I hope that we all will take the time to begin to meditate on what Jesus Christ did for us on the Cross.  Just as we do Stations of the Cross on Friday at noon, you can also read the various passion narratives in the four gospels and think deeply upon the offering Jesus made of himself.
Also, now is the time to make sure you have marked on your calendars the important worship on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Day, and to make sure nothing prevents you from joining us for worship on those days.
And you should also be inviting your friends and family to join us for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Services.  You may be the vehicle God will use to draw others closer to Him, and in an active relationship, just by your invitation to others to join us for worship!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Laetare! - Rector's Rambling for March 11, 2018

Happy Lætáre Sunday!  This Sunday is also known as Rose Sunday (take a look at the vestments and hangings today to figure out this title), and in our mother Church of England it is known as Mothering Sunday (like our Mother’s day in May).
Still a Sunday in Lent, this Sunday is a mid-point when we “lighten up” a bit.  The deep penitential purple vestments are replaced with the lighter rose.  The Latin title gives us a hint as to this lightening up of the day.  Lætáre is the opening word of the liturgy in Latin, on which our liturgy is based.  The first word of the Introit, sung by the choir at the 10:00 AM service, is “REJOICE”.
Although a penitential season, on this Sunday we rejoice that we have passed the half-way point of Lent.  We rejoice because Passiontide (the last two weeks before Easter) and Holy Week are in sight.  We rejoice because Easter is just around the corner.  We rejoice because, to date, we have kept a good Lent, OR because we still have a chance to have a good Lent starting today.  But above all we rejoice because we have a Saviour, Jesus Christ, who paid the price of our sins.  We rejoice that in Jesus Christ we have forgiveness of those sins and are reconciled unto the Father through His blood.
So if you haven’t started “keeping Lent” there is still time to give something up, and to take some things on like extra prayer at home or attending special services here at St. John’s.  And, of course, Fr. Kelly and Fr. Bedford are available to hear your confessions.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

"Do the Stations" - Rector's Rambling for March 4, 2018

As we spend time in Lent looking at the destructive effects of sin in our lives, both how they affect us in the flesh as well as our souls, we do so with a purpose.  That purpose is to place our sins at the foot of the Cross and let the Blood of Jesus wash them away.
“Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins”.  This is the only reason we merit heaven.  Eternal Life has been bought for us by the death of Jesus Christ.  We will be reminded of this in the readings on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday.  But it is an awesome act by a loving, sinless, God-made-flesh, that he should die for us.
One poignant way that we remember this gift is by praying the Stations of the Cross.  Every Friday in Lent at noon, we gather in the church and begin a 25 minute journey covering the last hours of Jesus’ life.  We walk as a group, starting at the foot of the steps to the sanctuary, and circumambulate the interior of the nave (seating area).  We stop at each of the 14 Stations to be reminded of that journey Jesus took from his being sentenced to death by Pilate, carrying his cross to his death on Calvary.  At each station we begin by saying, “We adore thee O Christ, and we bless thee, because by thy Holy Cross thou hast redeemed the world.”  Next we hear a description from scripture of a part of that journey, pray a Collect for that portion, and then move on to the next station while singing verses from the ancient hymn Stabat Mater.
At least once in Lent you should take the opportunity to join us to pray the Stations.  It is a powerful reminder of the selfless, loving act that Jesus Christ did for us.  It is so easy to gloss over the crucifixion with a pretty cross or picture.  But spending time meditating on that journey drives home the big reality of God’s love for us.
We have 11:15 AM Mass before, and  Benediction follows, but the Stations are that unique Lenten Devotion that YOU should take advantage of this year to be reminded just how much Jesus loves you.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Evil thoughts, evil behavour - Rector's Rambling for February 25, 2018

The Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent reminds us that we need God’s help in the battle against sin.  Our fallen condition, original sin, flies in the face of the modern philosophy of self-sufficiency and self-determination.
The Collect begins with the statement “that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves.”  This is a scary thought except we do have one who is able to help, guide, and protect us – Jesus Christ our Lord.  Although we want to think we can do it all ourselves, in fact our propensity to sin damages us in our decision making.
Sin by other people also effects us because sin is rarely “hurting no one else”.  A sinful decision to drink and drive, engage in deviant behavior, lie, or to covet, changes you and how you interact with neighbors.  Sin also tries to draw us into others sinful behavior to justify itself – “everybody is doing it”.
But the Collect acknowledges that our real and only help is from Our Lord.  We pray that He will “Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and outwardly in our souls”.  We cannot separate the two.  And the Collect also acknowledges that sin from others affects us as well as things within ourselves, “evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul”.
This battle against sin is literally life and death.  Last week we saw the horror of a 19-year-old giving in to the evil by committing the horrific sin of murder on his former school mates.  We struggle to make sense of it, but there is no earthly sense, and we argue on social media about the best way to prevent it from happening again.
Lost under the din of the shouting and knee-jerk reaction is the urgent need to pray for those affected by this sinful behavior: families, friends, and our whole citizenry.  We need to pray for their comfort as they mourn.  And we need to pray for the conversion of our country from it’s increasing secularism.  None of these calculated mass shooters are active participants in faith through a church.  This is not a coincidence.  May God have mercy on us all.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Have a happy Lent - Rector's Rambling for February 18, 2018

"Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return”.

These words were said, over and over, as ashes were applied on the foreheads of people at St. John’s, and in churches around the world.  This past Wednesday the Lenten Fast began, although it faced stiff competition from the secularized version of Valentine’s Day.  St. Valentine was martyred for his faith in Jesus – we can be sure he doesn’t mind that his feast day was bumped this year.
I like Ash Wednesday because, in addition to our regular worshippers, we see folks in church we don’t see very often, and we get visitors from neighboring office buildings who realize what day it is and dash to the nearest church.  It is nice to see people make an earnest start on this important season of the Church year.
Unlike Advent, which has been decimated by the consumerized seven weeks of pre-Christmas that exhausts us by the time Christmas actually arrives, Lent and Easter have remained mostly un-commercialized.
As I quipped last week in my sermon, I saw a t-shirt that said, “Have a miserable Lent”.  Actually, I don’t find Lent miserable, even if at times I am miserable in Lent.  If I am, it is because I have become too attached to things, and behaviors that may not be good for me.  Or worse yet, I have forgotten that self-control and making an offering of my life (even the good things) can be uncomfortable.  There is nothing evil or  bad about coffee, and in giving it up each year there is a headache for a few days.  But throughout Lent, each time I smell it, or see someone else drinking it and desire it for myself, I am reminded that I am offering this up for my sins, and to learn discipline.  It makes it a bit better.

Lent is here, and I hope that you will find it not miserable, but helpful.  Give something up.  Take something on.  Pray, fast, give alms.  Can you get to heaven without keeping Lent?  Sure, but in keeping it you learn to live more fully for Jesus – and that is a good enough reason

Monday, February 12, 2018

Keeping an Holy Lent - a brochure for your Lenten Edification

1. Fasting  -  The weekdays of Lent are fast days, meaning that the amount of food is reduced.  A good (if modern) suggestion is no snacks, no seconds, no desserts, and no alcohol.  If you don’t normally eat snacks or drink, you may consider giving up some favorite food.  The idea is to undertake something sacrificial, yet not overwhelming.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are strict fast days: one full meal in the evening, a very light one in the afternoon and for some nothing before 3pm.  Those who are ill, elderly, pregnant or nursing are excused from this discipline. (Page li, 1928 B.C.P.)

2. Abstinence - Abstaining from flesh meat on Fridays (as required by the Prayer Book) is a common discipline for Lent.  An ancient custom is to abstain from flesh meat on Wednesdays as well as Fridays.  Flesh meat includes all meat except fish.  Going vegetarian these days is also an option. (Page li, 1928 B.C.P.)

3. Holy Communion  - Lent is a good time to add a weekday Service to your usual Sunday attendance.  Weekday Services are about 30 minutes and are of a rather more intimate and quiet nature than those on Sunday.  The Wednesday Service also includes the Sacrament of Healing (Holy Unction). 

4. Daily Office  - If you do not now read Morning and/or Evening Prayer from the Prayer Book, Lent is a good time to begin doing so.  It takes some effort and discipline to get the habit established, but once accomplished, it can bear great fruit in your spiritual life.  Each Office takes 10-15 minutes a day.   Ask the Clergy if you need help in how to do it.

5. Spiritual Reading  - An ancient custom is to take a spiritual book for regular reading during Lent.  This can be a book on the Scriptures, or one of the spiritual classics.   Many are available in the parish library, and the clergy would be happy to make suggestions as well.

6. Confession  - A sacramental confession, in private to a priest, is not only an opportunity for a thorough self-examination, but also a powerful weapon against the temptations which come our way in Lent.   The Parish Clergy are available for this sacrament, as are other priests in the area.  Although the Anglican Communion does not require Sacramental Confession, it is permitted, and helpful.  More individuals should take advantage of this sacrament.

7.  Self-Denial  - You may want to give up some special pleasure or recreation for Lent (smoking, sweets, television), and perhaps give what you would have spent on it to charity.  This can be done in conjunction with other practices: if, for example, you give up an hour of TV every day, you might use it to read Evening Prayer and some Scripture. 
8. Service  - As well as “giving up” something in Lent, some wish to “take on” some special service, such as visiting a shut-in parishioner, volunteering at a hospital or nursing home, running errands for an elderly neighbor, or some special project at the church or in the community.

9. Scripture Reading  - Delving into the Word of God is never out of season.  Lent is a good time to establish (or re-establish) the discipline of a daily time of Scripture reading at home.  Using the lectionary (the appointed readings) for the daily office is a good starting point.

10. Educational Opportunities
Take the opportunity in Lent to join the Adult Ed. Class on Sundays at 9:05am or Thursday evening for bible study.

11. Corporate Special Devotions  - There are numerous opportunities for your spiritual growth throughout Lent.  In addition to Communion and Daily Offices, on Thursdays we have Adoration and Benediction, and on Fridays at noon the parish will gather at the Church for Stations of the Cross following Mass.   

12. Evangelism  - Lent is a good time to renew ones commitment to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with friends and neighbors, and to invite them to worship with us here at St. John’s.

Brochure originally written by the late Ann Marie Shuster,
and revised periodically  by Fr. Steven J. Kelly.

Quinquagesima - Rector's Rambling for February 11, 2018

Beginning this week, things will be getting even busier around St. John’s!  Being Quinquagesima Sunday today, it means that by mid-week Lent begins, and the additional devotions and disciplines take full effect.
Before the fasting begins, we do have one last feast with some frivolity.  On Tuesday evening, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, we will be serving pancakes, sausage and ice cream as we celebrate Shrove Tuesday.  Additionally, we have a talent show, and all who attend are welcome to contribute with a song, a joke or two, a dance, or a favorite poem.  Performing is not a requirement to attend dinner: we need people to be the audience as well!
On Wednesday Lent begins, and there are three opportunities for worship to make a right start of Lent with the imposition of ashes: 12:15 and 6:00 PM Holy Communion, and 4:00 PM Evening Prayer.
Included in the Order of Service today are our two Lenten Brochures, outlining both how to keep a Holy Lent, and various opportunities offered here at St. John’s.  The extra weekday services start on Thursday with weekly Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament, and on Friday with an extra weekday Holy Communion service, as well as Stations of the Cross.  Educational opportunities include Adult Education on Sundays at 9:05 AM and a Thursday evening service and Bible Study.
Our Sunday Lenten worship begins next week the Litany in Procession, alternating each week with the Decalogue.  It is my hope that we will have a 100% attendance day next Sunday to get Lent off to a good start.  The weather hasn’t been the most cooperative lately, but even on the pleasant weather Sundays attendance has been wanting.
Lent is a wonderful time to re-evaluate and re-set our spiritual life.  Take advantage of these opportunities by jumping in with both feet: regular Sunday Service attendance, weekday Mass attendance, Bible reading and prayer at home, and keeping the Lenten Fasts and Disciplines to make this an Holy Lent.

The Presentation - Rector's Rambling for February 4, 2018

On Friday the church celebrated the 40th day of our Lord’s life with what the Prayer Book calls The Feast of the Presentation in the Temple, commonly called The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin.
On this day Jesus was brought to Jerusalem, to be offered in service to the Lord.  A sacrifice of turtle-doves or pigeons was made as a reminder of the sacrifice called for of Abraham for Isaiah, for which God provided an alternative sacrifice.
Sacrifice comes from the Latin phrase that means to make something holy.  The male Jew is offered up in prayer as a reminder that he is to be holy.
It occurs on the 40th day of the child’s life also because the mother of the child makes her offering of thanksgiving and is considered “purified” from her issue of blood which occurs after childbearing.  These ideas of “unclean” because of an issue of blood seem so alien to us in our modern day mindset, but it was also a protection for the mother and newborn baby – 40 days in which they are expected not to go out and be exposed to germs, stress, or the expectation of work or hosting because they are “unclean”.
This custom continued in our own Prayer Book tradition with the optional service found on page 305, The Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth, commonly called the Churching of Women.  In the service there is a prayer of thanksgiving for a safe child-birth as well as prayer of blessing on the woman and child.
In the story of our Lord’s Presentation, and his mother’s purification, it shows not only that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law by the following of the Law, but we see the appearance of the Prophet and Prophetess, Simeon and Anna, who pronounce blessing and prediction that Jesus will be the one promised of God, and will be for the rise and fall of many.
The story is contained in St. Luke’s Gospel, the second chapter, beginning at the 22nd verse.  And let us also be mindful, with thanksgiving, of the conception and birth of children, and pray for safe child-bearing for those in expectation.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Gesimas begin - Rector's Rambling for January 28, 2018

As we begin a new season, the pre-Lenten season known as the “Gesima” Sundays, I am reminded of the start of a poem by John Betjeman:

Septuagesima – seventy days
To Easter’s primrose tide of praise;
The Gesimas – Septua, Sexa, Quinc
Mean Lent is near, which makes you think.
Septuagesima – when we’re told
To “run the race”, to “keep our hold”,
Eschew injustice, not give in,
And practise stern self-discipline;
A somewhat unattractive time
Which hardly lends itself to rhyme.

We are now making a start toward Lent, hence the appearance of the purple vestments and the disappearance of the “Alleluia”.  And yet, we still have flowers on the altar and weekday Masses are kept in the “color of the day” rather than the strict purple-only of Lenten weekday Masses.  It isn’t quite the heaviness of the full penitential season, but it is a three week reminder that they time is coming, and that you should be thinking of the disciplines you will be taking on, and that which you will be “giving up for Lent”.  Don’t let Ash Wednesday, on February 14, sneak up on you unprepared!

Today, after the 10:00 AM service, we will hold our Annual Parish Meeting in the Undercroft.  I hope that you will come downstairs for a bite to eat and to stay for the meeting.  Generally, the meeting is less than an hour long and is a wonderful way to stay informed of what is going on around the parish.  We find ourselves overwhelmed with blessings here at St. John’s, and the Annual Parish Meeting is a wonderful way for us to not only give thanks to God for these blessings, but an opportunity to look forward to what God may be calling us to do in the year (and years) ahead.

Finally, as of this morning, we are moved out of the 1971 office building, and demolition and reconstruction is ready to start.  The weekday office entrance will be the new Southwest Narthex door in the garden near Woodward.  Phone numbers and e-mail addresses remain the same.