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, August 15, 2017

Thoughts on St. Mary - Rector's Rambling AND Teaching Notes, August 13, 2017


On Tuesday, August 15, the Episcopal Church celebrates the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin.  The Roman Church celebrates on the same day The Feast of the Assumption of our Lady, and the Orthodox celebrate the Feast of the Dormition (or falling asleep) of Mary.  No matter what the title, it is a major Holy Day of the Church Universal.
Pictured above is the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham here at St. John’s.  It is located in the chapel, behind the grillwork and votive candle rack to the right of the altar.
St. Mary is an important part of the story of our Salvation.  It was her acquiescence to the Angel Gabriel’s announcement that set in motion Jesus’ Incarnation (taking flesh).  She was a dutiful mother and as a member of the original covenant helped to raise Jesus as keeper of God’s law.  She was present throughout his public ministry and one of a few of his followers who kept vigil at the foot of the cross where Jesus gave her to St. John for her keeping, and vice versa.  She was a witness of the Resurrection and present on Pentecost.  St. Mary was faithful from beginning to end of Jesus’ earthly life, and beyond.
On Tuesday we will remember all that and give thanks to God for her faithfulness.  And we will pray God to help us to be faithful like St. Mary.  Pray that we will be willing to follow Him, love Him, and do whatever He tells us (as St. Mary said to the servants at the Wedding Feast at Cana).

And just as we might ask our loved ones, fellow parishioners, or priest to pray for us in the time of trial and need, so too we ask St. Mary to pray for us to her Son Jesus Christ.  Just as we are concerned for each other in Love, so too St. Mary desires to pray for us to her Son that we may fully know His Love for us.

The Episcopal Church has had a hot and cold relationship with devotion to our Lord with His mother St. Mary.  Depending on one’s churchmanship (Low Church Protestant on one end, High Church Anglo-catholic on the other) your interest in having St. Mary participate in an Episcopalian’s life of prayer will vary.
The Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, available from Amazon.com, the complete text of which is found on The Episcopal Church’s official Web page, says about this prayer:
[The Hail Mary is a] Prayer addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The first two of its three parts are drawn from the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Lk 1:28, RSV); and Elizabeth’s words to Mary at the Visitation, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lk 1:42, RSV).  These verses have been used as a single formula in Christian liturgy since the sixth century.  They were used in the antiphonary in the seventh century as an offertory text for the feast of the Annunciation, for the Ember Wednesday of Advent, and for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  The two verses were a popular devotion by the eleventh century.  The third part of the Hail Mary is the concluding petition, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.”  Various concluding prayers for this devotion were added in the fifteenth century.  The concluding petition in its present form has been dated from the sixteenth century.  The Hail Mary is also known as the Angelic Salutation.  Its Latin form is Ave Maria.  The Hail Mary is used in other Christian devotions, such as the Angelus and the Rosary.
The first part of the prayer is a statement from the Scripture about who St. Mary is, and the second half our request that St. Mary pray for us.
Much about St. Mary is biblical and therefore required for belief, such as the Virgin Conception and Virgin Birth.  But asking St. Mary to pray for you is not required for salvation.  If it helps you to grow closer to Jesus then the Hail Mary is available to you.  If not, then find something that does.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Transfiguration on Sunday - Rector's Rambling for August 6, 2017

Last week we got a chance to have a special celebration by having our Founders’ Day.  This week it is the Church Calendar that gives us the opportunity to have a special celebration.
August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration, and because it falls on a Sunday this year, we get to celebrate it instead of the 8th Sunday after Trinity.  All Feasts of Our Lord have “Precedence” over most regularly appointed Sundays, such as Sundays after Trinity.  If you want to see which special days have priority then you can turn to pages l and li in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer for the Tables and Rules for the Movable and Immovable Feasts.
In June of 1993 I stood on the “high mountain” that tradition says is the location of today’s biblical event.  It is Mount Tabor – overlooking the plain and mound of Megiddo (supposed to be the location of the last apocalyptic battle – Armageddon comes from Har (mound) Megiddo.  Across the valley is the town of Nazareth where Jesus was raised, and from whose precipice Jesus was threatened to be thrown after reading the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah in the scrolls of the prophet Isaiah, and proclaiming it fulfilled in their hearing.
On the top of Mount Tabor is a lovely 1920s church that replaced a destroyed 12th century Crusader-built church built over the ruins of a destroyed 4th century Byzantine church.  But it is around back, in the gardens, that one gets a sense of what it may have been like in Jesus’ time, to see Him as His divinity shined through his human flesh.  Jesus is alone with the core group of disciples who get a glimpse of what has been called a pre-Resurrection Resurrection appearance.  Even if Peter gets it wrong (again) they did figure out eventually that it is Jesus alone who is worthy of worship, and we do today.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Founders Day 2017 - Rector's Rambling for July 30, 2017

It is nice to look backwards occasionally to be reminded of your heritage.  That is a goal of this Sunday’s Founders’ Day.  We not only worship  today with the original Prayer Book in use when the parish opened for worship (November 10, 1859), but we are reminded again of the hundreds of people who were instrumental in the building of the chapel (1859) and church (1861) and the thousands who have gone before us.  These many people have supported this parish with their prayers, time, and financial contributions.
We are here today on this corner of Woodward and High Street (now Fisher Freeway) to worship the same Almighty God, using the same Anglican formularies of faith and liturgy.  Although the “ ſ ” now looks like an “ s ” in the prayer book, the form for our worship in the 1928 Prayer Book differs in only the smallest ways of reordering and reprioritizing.  The Faith for which our worship is ordered has not changed because it is grounded in Scripture.  This Faith has continued to be expressed in our worldwide Anglican Communion since the 16th century, and since the Good News of Jesus Christ was brought to England (home of our mother church) shortly after the Resurrection.
Henry Porter Baldwin is our parish founder, having bought this land and donated it, along with architectural designs for these buildings, and some cash to get it started.  It is for his leadership in organizing his neighbors in a meeting in the house pictured above to form this parish, his leadership as Senior Warden of the parish for 34 years while also serving as State Senator, U.S. Senator, and Governor of Michigan, and as a leader in banking and industry, that we celebrate Founders’ Day, and we give thanks to God for him, and for all those who have sat in these pews since 1859.

Monday, July 24, 2017

My turning point in understanding the faith - Rector's Rambling for July 23, 2017

It was a hot, muggy weekday Mass at St. Mary’s Hamilton Village (West Philadelphia) on July 24, 1989.  As it often was, there were only three of us at the service, including the priest.
At sermon time he read the hagiography (saint’s biography) for the saint of day, St. Thomas a Kempis.  “The Imitation of Christ, which he composed or compiled, has been translated into more languages than any other book except the Holy Scriptures”.  The priest then quipped, “I think I read that in seminary, but I don’t think it applies to the church anymore.”
During the rest of Mass the words of that priest churned through my brain.  How could this book, the most translated work besides the Bible, not be relevant any longer?
After the service I went to the used bookstore four blocks away and purchased a copy of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis.  It is not a particularly long book, but rather is written in a format that is intended for reading in small sections and meditating on them.
Having recently come back to the practice of the faith six months previously, I devoured the book like a man finding water after days in the desert.  I read it completely in one sitting.  Thomas’ explanation of the Scriptures, the new life in Christ, and how we apply them to our daily living were a welcome aid to my spiritual life.  It was also a realization that not only does this devotional book still apply to the church, but it was absolutely necessary and needed!
That day was a turning point for me to see the Scriptures as real and relevant, interpreting and shaping the culture, and not the other way around.  Thank you St. Thomas a Kempis for writing such a wonderful work, and thank you Fr. John Scott for inadvertently getting me pointed in the right direction!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Post-St. Michael's Conference for Youth - Rector's Rambling for July 16, 2017

Thank you to all of you who contributed of your prayers and treasure in support of the St. Michael’s Conference for Youth.
Every year I return from the Conference exhausted (I am not as young as I was when I started working at this conference 19 years ago) and yet I am also revitalized.  And I know from conversations with other clergy that they share my feelings.  It is a long week of worship, classes, activities, and fun.
Three highlights stand out for me.  One highlight for this week is getting to spend time with fellow priests, many of them also members of the Society of the Holy Cross.  We share experience, strength, and hope with each other as we compare stories from our adventures in ministry.
Another highlight is having a community of people to pray Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline, and The Holy Communion every day of the week.  The chapel becomes the central focus of the Conference.
The final, and most important highlight is seeing the young people begin to “get it” as they are worshipping, learning, and having fun.  Although some will stray from the practice of the faith, I have been with this conference long enough to not only see many of those old-time teens return back to the practice of the faith, but we are now seeing some of their children attend St. Michael’s Conference!
The challenge for the young people, as well as for the staff and clergy, is to keep the memory of those highlights fresh as we pray often by our selves, but for each other, until we gather again.

At the end of the Conference inevitably someone says, “the Conference should be two weeks long,” and we just smile, exhaustedly.  But then we think secretly to ourselves, "perhaps...."

Friday, June 30, 2017

Happy Birthday USA - Rector's Rambling for July 2, 2017

Today we anticipate, with thanksgiving, the independence of our country.  Although July 4 is marked as the holiday, in fact it was on July 2 that independence was formally declared by the Continental Congress, but not publicly announced until a few days later (some say it was so that the signers could get out of town and avoid being arrested for treason, but this is doubtful).  The formal copy of the Declaration of Independence, signed in large script by John Hancock, was actually signed on August 2 after an original document had been sent on its way to King George.
Although there is much debate about  the religious sensibilities of our country’s founders, there is no doubt that all of them were religious in one way or another.  From Thomas Jefferson’s Masonic deism to John Adams’ New England Puritanism turned Unitarian Congregationalism, a broad spectrum of religious belief was held by those who declared these colonies free from England’s rule.
Thirty-two of the 56 signers were members of the Church of England.  This means that 57% of the signers were members of a church that had clergy who took an oath of allegiance to the King of England at their ordination!  It took some time after the Revolution for what was left of the Church of England to organize themselves into what would become the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America.
To read the Declaration is to see an acknowledgement that our liberty comes from God:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Extra-ordinary in Ordinary Time - Rector's Rambling for June 25, 2017

Last week I mentioned that the celebration of Corpus Christi on Sunday marked the last “hurrah” before we entered the long “green” period of the Ordinary Season, better known as Trinitytide.
But our start today in the green is anything but ordinary.  Before the sermon, we will induct two members into the Daughters of the King, and then after the sermon, we will make a new member of the Body of Christ through the waters of baptism.  You cannot top that for a start to this summer and fall church season.
Although the title “ordinary” time makes it appear that there is nothing special about these coming weeks, it actually is about being well-ordered with teaching about Jesus and the life of faith.  I promise you that it won’t be ordinary as in not special.
In addition to special events like the institution and baptism, we will have other special Sunday events in the coming weeks.  July 30 will be our Founders’ Sunday.  August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration (which is observed on a Sunday if they overlap).  We will also celebrate St. Michael and all Angels and the Feast of All Saints on Sundays because of their importance.  And a few more baptisms are being planned, God willing, during this time as well.
Whether a special Sunday, or seemingly ordinary, it is still our bounden duty to worship God every Sunday in His Church (Office of Instruction, p. 291, 1928 Book of Common Prayer).  I know that folks are away for portions of the summer, but if you are home, I hope that you will be here with us for worship.  Your absence is not only detrimental to your spiritual life, but diminishes us all as well, since we do not have you with us to worship and to encourage us by your presence.