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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Learn, to be able to spread, the Good News - Rector's Rambling for December 10, 2017

In 1994 I had the grace to hear Bishop Michael Marshall speak at my seminary about Evangelism.  For many Episcopalians Evangelism sounds like a dirty word.  But Bishop Marshall, at one time the youngest bishop in the Church of England, drove home the imperative that Evangelism is a foundational principle for those in the church who identify as Anglo-catholic as well as Evangelical.  In fact, the church when she is functioning best is Evangelical Catholic.  She is catholic in keeping all the universal teaching of the church, particularly concerning Jesus in the Sacraments and how the church worships and glorifies Him in the liturgy.  But we do it to make Him known, the meaning of Evangelism.
We are to spread the Good News, and in order to do that we must know the Good News that Jesus Christ is Lord, and be able to share the hope that is in us through His Holy Word.
One of the sessions Bishop Marshall led that week was on reading and learning the Bible, germane to today’s Collect of the Day.  In order to really know Jesus, we need to know Him as He has revealed himself in his Holy Word, as well as in the Sacrament, and in the hearts of His faithful people.
Bishop Marshall had a couple of interesting hints that I remember to this day:
1) Find a translation and an edition of the Bible that speaks to you, and buy several copies of it so when that edition goes out of print you will have a back-up.  My study Bible is The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, expanded edition, Revised Standard Version, copyright 1977 – I have three copies.  His point is that you will start remembering where things are in the Bible by left or right page, and column, if you consistently use one edition.  (For memorizing and worship, I use the King James Version).
2) Sing the Bible out loud.  Pick a simple tune and sing it.  Sung things are easier to memorize!  At one time you are reading it, singing it, and hearing it, thereby triple reinforcing the memorization of the Bible.

Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent
BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.


Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Hurry up and wait - Rector's Rambling for December 3, 2

And so we begin a new year with the celebration of Advent.  When the rest of the world shouts, “hurry up!”, “buy this!”, or “here is a deal”, the church says to slow down, to reflect, and to prepare internally and spiritually for those things with eternal consequences.
Advent is a season of the Already and the Not Yet.  We are preparing for that which has already happened – the birth of Jesus Christ, and for that which has not yet happened – His return in glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead.  It isn’t “pre-Christmas”, but an intentional time of preparation by looking at the state of one’s soul.
This year, however, we will feel a bit rushed about Advent because the 4th Sunday in Advent is also Christmas Eve.  We miss out on the days that we would usually have between the 4th Sunday and Christmas to reflect and prepare.
The first three weeks of Advent will be full of our regular busy activity of Soup Luncheons, Bazaar, Gift-Giving Tree, Warm Fuzzy Mitten Tree, and the Cookie Walk.  Be sure to patronize all these events.
This year, because of the Advent IV and Christmas Eve overlap, we will have to stagger our church decorating.  Instead of doing it all on the weekend of Advent IV, please plan on staying after church for 45 minutes on December 10 and or December 17 as we start to put up the pew candles, draping greens on the balcony, etc.
And, of course, now is the time to begin inviting friends, neighbors, and family to attend worship for Advent and to attend our Christmas Eve Services.  This is the time of year when people who may not be regular about church attendance are looking for a place to worship.  God may be using you to bring them to Himself through the ministry of this parish.  Don’t miss the opportunity to “talk up St. John’s” whenever you get the opportunity to do so, and offer to bring them down here for an Advent Sunday and Christmas Eve.
Prepare!  Reflect!  Christmas is coming, and Jesus is coming back.  Let us be ready by His grace.


Monday, November 27, 2017

"animated with earnest zeal" - Rector's Rambling for November 26, 2017

First, I want to thank everyone who pitched in to help on Thanksgiving, with the pancake breakfast and donut/hot chocolate sales, as well as the many people who welcomed guests and showed them around our beautiful  building.
St. John’s is an amazing place, with amazing people!  When I give tours of the building during the week, I get to see the our place through their eyes.  They walk in and you hear them gasp, and look around in awe.  Before long someone in the group says, “I have driven by this place a thousand times and I never imagined how beautiful this is!”  And as I give them a synopsis of our remarkable history, I always make a point of telling them that as wonderful as the building is, and amazing as our history is, even more amazing and beautiful is what God is doing here now, and more beautiful are the people who are members here!
On Thanksgiving we welcome hundreds of people into our midst.  Our big challenge is to find ways to reach out to the multitude of people who live near us, work near us, and pass by on their way to the stadiums, arena, and theatres, to come in to pray, worship, and join us for both religious and social events so that we can build relationships which open opportunities to share Jesus with them.
In our prayer for St. John’s we ask God to “Enlighten our minds, subdue our wills, purify our hearts, and so penetrate us with Thy Spirit, and fill us with Thy love that we may go forth animated with earnest zeal for Thy glory; and may Thy living Word so dwell within our hearts that we may speak with that resistless energy of love which shall melt the hearts of sinners to the love of Thee.”  This is the formula we need to embrace in order not only to become holier, but to do so in order to draw people to Jesus.  If we are working on growing in grace, we will be motivated to reach out to others and share Jesus’ love.

The building is a wonderful attraction,  a wonderful inspiration to lead us to holiness, and a great location for ministry.  Let us step up to our responsibilities to use it for God’s Glory!

Monday, November 20, 2017

A wonderful week ahead - Rector's Rambling for November 19, 2017

We have a wonderful week ahead of us at St. John’s Church, and I hope you will participate and invite others to partake in all the busyness around here!
On Wednesday, at 7:00 PM, we have our Thanksgiving Eve Service in the chapel with all the great hymns of gratitude for God’s Blessings.  Afterwards, if you are so inclined, you are welcome to spend the night at the church (BYO bedrolls).
On Thursday we celebrate Thanksgiving morning here in a big way!  COME EARLY to get a space in our parking lot!  We will be serving pancake breakfasts ($7 adults, $4 children) in the undercroft, and at the front doors we will be selling donuts, coffee, and hot chocolate.  Food service starts by 7:00 AM.  Volunteers are always needed at both spots to welcome our many guests that day.
And there is no better place in Detroit to view America’s Thanksgiving Day Parade than at St. John’s Church.  We will have scaffolding built to sit on, food is available, and of course you can come and go inside the heated building.  The comradery that day is wonderful, and nothing beats welcoming jolly Ol’ St. Nick to downtown Detroit with than the ringing of our 158 year old bell!
Next weekend we have an interesting anomaly – a Sunday after Thanksgiving that is NOT a Sunday in Advent.  Because the 4th Sunday in Advent is the same day as Christmas Eve this year, we start Advent in December.  But rest assured, our various outreach opportunities will begin on time, and we will be busy, busy, busy, to the greater glory of God, with things like our Bazaar and Advent Soup Luncheons beginning December 3.
TODAY, be sure to stay after the service for 15 minutes for a presentation about the building project preparations, vestry strategic planning, and some exciting future events coming up in 2018.  We will meet after the 8:00 AM service in the chapel, and after the 10:00 AM service in the undercroft.
Exciting things are happening at St. John’s that you should be involved in!


Monday, November 13, 2017

Bishops make us Episcopal - Rector's Rambling for November 12, 2017

Two-hundred and thirty-three years ago this Tuesday a very important event happened in the life of what was to become the Episcopal Church USA.
On November 14, 1784, Samuel Seabury was consecrated by three bishops in Scotland as the first bishop for the remnant of the Church of England in the new United States of America.
If you are a big fan of the wildly popular Broadway musical Hamilton, that name is familiar to you.  Samuel Seabury, along with King George, are two of the villains in the play, and in fact Rev. Samuel Seabury, as a priest of the Church of England in the colonies, was an avid loyalist to the King (all priests in the C of E take an oath of allegiance at their ordination).  Seabury wrote pamphlets supporting the king in the colonies, was chaplain to a British regiment, and then after the war, unlike many of his fellow clergy who went back to England or fled to Canada, stayed in the new country and continued his ministry.
During colonial times England did not consecrate a bishop for the Church here, and it was technically a mission field of the Bishop of London.  After the Revolutionary War, groupings of clergy and laity began to form what was to become dioceses, and eventually a national structure that was to become the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States.
Since our Church needed bishops, the clergy in Connecticut elected Seabury to be their first bishop.  The bishops in England refused to consecrate him because he could not take the oath of allegiance to the King.  So Seabury sought his line of apostolic succession from the dissenters that were the Scottish Episcopal Church, and on November 14, 1784, he was made a bishop.
Soon after that the clergy/laity of Pennsylvania and New York elected William White and Samuel Provoost, and they were able to convince the Church of England to ordain them without the Oath to the King, to which they most likely begrudgingly agreed to prevent them from going to Scotland as Seabury did.
November 14 is not Seabury’s Feast Day (the Church has not declared him a saint).  But it is an important day because to be EPISCOPAL you need BISHOPS in Apostolic Order.  In the Bible επίσκοπος (pronounced Episkopos) means Bishop.  We are the Protestant Church with Bishops (Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA).
Photo of the Seabury Consecration window at St. James Church, New London, CT

Monday, November 06, 2017

A 'local' saint - Rector's Rambling for November 5, 2017

In the coming weeks you will be hearing a lot about Fr. Solanus Casey, because on November 18, he will be declared “blessed” by the Roman Catholic Church, the a step in their process to be declared a “Saint” of the Church.
Here in the Anglican Communion, we do not have the same, long, tedious process the Roman Church has to investigate the holiness of those who have lived lives of extraordinary sanctity.  Their goal is to be sure that the person was not a fraud with a cult following, as sometimes is revealed about people after their death.
As we celebrate All Saints’ Day today, we will sing my favorite hymn, “I sing a song of the saints of God” in which we will declare that the “saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”
Too often we think of the saints as far away and long ago, and the hymn reminds us otherwise.  Fr. Solanus Casey is yet another example of one who started out as “folk like me” and by his desire and cooperation with God did wonderful things through Him.  He did much of his ministry two miles from St. John’s, and he died only 60 years ago!
Fr. Solanus was born in Wisconsin and desired to be a diocesan parish priest.  When he wasn’t smart enough to pass his theology exams in seminary, it was suggested that he join a religious order.  That order then sent him to seminary where he failed AGAIN.
Not deterred he persisted, and the Roman Church ordained him, but with “limited facilities”, which prevented him from doing many things expected of a priest other than saying Mass.  So the Capuchin Franciscans made him the doorkeeper of the friary on Mt. Elliot in Detroit.  From there he interacted with the poor and needy, prayed with and for those who were ill or in other need, and God began using him for miraculous purposes.
Perhaps his most well-known contribution was his suggestion to his religious superiors of the need to start a soup kitchen because he predicted there would be increasing numbers of people in need.  As the new plan was being put in place, the stock market crash of 1929 proved him right.  And to this day, the Capuchin Soup Kitchen ministries continue to feed thousands of people a week, as well as minister to the poor through counseling and other programs.  Fr. Solanus was just “folk like me” who wanted to be holy and cooperated with God to do it!


Unique to St. John's - A teaching note turned brochure

St. John’s is a unique place.  In Metro Detroit there is no other church, Episcopal or otherwise, that is like St. John’s.  There are certainly parishes in other major cities much like St. John’s, with similar attributes.  But in our area there is no other place with this complete “package” of attributes!
Individuals are generally drawn to one or more aspect of this package, but all play a part in defining and strengthening the brand.  To diminish or change a portion of what we do here is the endanger damaging the brand, and its attraction to the whole.  For example, when Coca-Cola changed the recipe for its successful product, they damaged its brand for several years.  This is not to say that we can’t be looking to make improvements.  All must be done with an eye to the greater whole of who we are and what we do.
What are some of the portions of our brand that make up the package here at St. John’s?
1) Traditional Anglican Faith – No deviations theologically to the faith as the Anglican Communion has received it from the witness of Scripture, and the traditions and ministry received from the Apostles.
2) Traditional Worship/Liturgy – Based on that traditional faith as codified in the Book of Common Prayer from 1549 to 1928.  The form for ceremonial was restored in the Anglican Communion by those involved in the Oxford Movement of the mid-19th century, of which St. John’s was an early proponent.
3) World Class Music – St. Augustine said that “He who sings prays twice”.  Music has been a vital aspect of the worship in the Anglican Communion, and especially so here at St. John’s.  Our English choral tradition lifts the heart, promotes right belief, complements our Prayer Book worship, and edifies the faithful in ways that are deeper than words can express.
4) Biblically sound and inspiring preaching and teaching – The clergy strive to make the Word of God relevant and challenging so that the faithful can be both comforted in His Holy Word, and challenged to grow in greater holiness.
5) Remarkable Building – For over 150 years these grand buildings have stood on this corner of Woodward Ave as a witness to the strength of the Gospel, and its architecture inspires one to worship God Almighty in the beauty of holiness.  In addition to aiding in worship, our facilities are used for education, social gatherings, and they host a variety of parish ministries and community groups.
6) Our downtown urban location – Although some think is a disadvantage, we embrace being centrally located among the sport stadiums and theatres, near major highways, and easily accessible for those who travel from as far away as Ann Arbor, Algonac, and South Lyon on a regular basis.  The neighborhood also continues to see new and renovated housing and loft apartments which attract people to move into the neighborhood surrounding St. John’s
7) Warm, welcoming, and encouraging fellowship – Many people have said that as much as they like a combination of the first 6 items listed, it is this seventh one that brings it all together and keeps them coming back to St. John’s.  At Coffee Hour or Potluck luncheon after worship on Sunday, at various Social Fellowship Outings, or in one another’s homes, we come to know one another and care for each other.  This strengthens our bonds to each other, and to the parish, through the common denominator of our faith in Jesus Christ.

What are the things you like best about St. John’s?  Two, three or four of the items may jump out at you as your favorites.  Another one or two you may find you don’t take advantage of, or perhaps you are not too interested in.  And there may even be an item or two that doesn’t strike your fancy at all.  If you put together even a small group of parishioners I am sure you will find all parts of the package covered in a “favorites” column.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Unity, not division - Rector's Rambling for October 29, 2017

Five-hundred years ago this week the Church was damaged, seemingly irreparably.  I don’t mean the Church as in a building, but The Church as the Body of Jesus Christ himself.
On October 31, 1517, a monk nailed his Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences on the church door in his town, having also sent them to the Archbishop, and thus is marked the beginning of what is called The Reformation.
Many churches of Lutheran and other protestant persuasions will be celebrating this day as a great historical event.  But in light of our Lord’s admonition that we “all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21), I think that we should give pause to celebration, and think instead about how our sad divisions, which has begat yet more and more divisions, resulting in thousands of denominations or groupings of churches within Protestantism alone, hinders our ability to convince the world that Jesus was sent by the Father and is Lord.
I am not saying the Roman Church was, and in ways is still, without faults.  Rome herself met shortly after this event (the Council of Trent) to evaluate and make many changes, although not all that Martin Luther and other Protestant leaders wanted.  England’s reformation began as a more political act of stopping Rome’s ability to tell Henry VIII he had to stay married to a woman that was previously married to his late brother, a marriage that he had been forced into for political alliance.  This led to the great theological struggle to try to find a balance between reformed principles and catholic (universally accepted) theology and organization.  A “via media”, a middle way, has been the goal of our denomination with varying degrees of success over the years.
Today, rather than celebrating division, we will pray for Christ’s Kingship over all believers.  Rather than divided, may we be brought together to make Christ known to all.