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, 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.


Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Bishop announced his retirement - Rector's Rambling for January 21, 2018

As we heard announced last Sunday, the Bishop of the Diocese of Michigan has announced his retirement, effective December of 2019.
Why such a long lag time between the announcement and his retirement?  This is generally done so that the diocese can have a smooth transition to a new bishop.  Much needs to be done before the new bishop can be consecrated, God willing, in February of 2020.
It is hard to believe that Bishop Gibbs, at his retirement, will have served nearly 20 years as diocesan.  He was consecrated in February of 2000 and became diocesan bishop upon the retirement of Bishop Wood in November 2000.  Shortly after he assumed the post, a young 34 year-old priest called his office to ask for an appointment to meet him because he was interviewing at St. John’s Church.  This came as a surprise to the bishop because despite St. John’s long vacancy, due to the former bishop’s desire to change the traditionalism of the parish, the Vestry had gone ahead and started seeking candidates to interview without the dioceses’ help (perfectly within it’s canonical rights).
Thankfully, Bishop Gibbs was willing to take a chance to meet this cheeky priest, and the two agreed that day, if God was willing to call him to Detroit, to work together to Glorify God and edify His people.
Three months later I arrived as Rector at St. John’s and I am grateful to the Bishop for his willingness to let this happen.  We have not always seen eye to eye on things within the Church, but we have sought to find ways to work together and let God sort it out.  Start praying now that his successor has a similar heart for Jesus and respect for St. John’s Church.
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A reminder that next Sunday the Annual Parish Meeting of St. John’s Church will be held after the 10:00 AM Service.  All members are encouraged to attend.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

And so it begins... - Rector's Rambling for January 14, 2018

The next phases of the renovation project are getting underway this month.
Pictured is our electronic signboard, which was sent out to be updated.  After the new QLine station was built blocking the sight-line for the sign, the private corporation that built the new trolley offered to pay for us to elevate the sign so it can be seen over station.  While we were getting estimates to do that, we also entered into an agreement to have it updated with newer electronics (the electronic sign panels were failing and replacements no longer being made) which will allow for a higher quality resolution.  The face of the sign is also being expanded to allow the changeable electronic portion to be a larger square, rather than rectangular.  The restored sign should be installed in the next few weeks.
The next project is the 1971 Office building.  Thanks to parishioner Terri Palmer Burton, Palmer Moving came last Thursday and took away furniture and boxes to be put into storage.  In the next week or two the Office Manager and the Treasurer will move into the classroom in the undercroft and phone/Internet connected in there.  My office will be in the acolyte sacristy next to the chapel entrance.
Also, last week a key lock was installed on the garden narthex door to the church, where the new handicapped ramp is located.  This will allow us keyed access to the building during construction.  Until this, the only way to get into the building with a key from the outside was through the office building.
Demolition work on the interior of the office building will begin shortly thereafter so that the entire upstairs and downstairs will be renovated into useable and attractive space for ministry.
I hope everyone will be patient as we will all be inconvenienced in one way or another with this construction.  Hopefully we can keep focused on how great the results will be… well worth the occasional trouble of using a different entrance or finding/not finding something we thought we had stored for use during this project.
If you have questions or concerns, please speak with Dave Schafer (project coordinator), or with me, so as to avoid rumor and gossip, causing unhappiness.


Monday, January 08, 2018

Spiritual Resolutions for 2018 - Rector's Rambling for January 7, 2018

After finishing the 12 days of Christmas we began yesterday a new Church season with the celebration of The Epiphany.  Epiphanytide is a season whose length varies from year to year based on when Easter is celebrated (calculated from a lunar formula which results in April 1 for 2018).  This year we get three Sundays in Epiphanytide before we begin the pre-Lenten “-gesima” Sundays.
The emphasis of this short season is the “epiphany” (a moment of sudden revelation or insight.) that God has come to dwell among us, and that Jesus Christ is in fact the second person of the Holy Trinity.  In the case of the story in scripture, it is three wise men, sometimes referred to as three kings or magi, who are not Jews, but realize astronomically that a great potentate has been born, and so they come to pay homage, to worship the newborn king, as depicted above in the Rubens painting.
In the secular world, this is the first Sunday of 2018.  I pray we all have a good year and that we are open to the many blessings that God is showering upon us by His Grace.
By now, about a week into the new year, many well-intentioned resolutions have already fallen by the wayside.  Fear not, because the good news about our having free will is that we can repent and restart at any time (not that breaking a resolution is necessarily a sin).  Although we are confined to time and space, and the “calendar” is a reality, we can at any time make a decision to grow closer to Jesus and allow him to impact our life in a new and/or deeper way.
Need some ideas for some spiritual resolutions?  Here is a helpful list:
1) Attend Holy Communion EVERY Sunday, and on weekdays when possible.  Nothing better then the grace of receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, and being obedient in keeping holy the Sabbath by coming to church.
2) Pray EVERY day.  Whether it is the full prayer book daily office, or 10 minutes set aside to talk to God (preferably both), checking in with the Lord we love is vital!
3) Read the Bible EVERY day.
4) Ask Jesus EVERY day how He would have you live.


Monday, January 01, 2018

125th anniversary of the death of our founder - Rector's Rambling for December 31, 2017

Today we continue our celebration of the Nativity, better known as Christmas.  The 12 Days of Christmas started on December 25 (or for many of us on Christmas Eve) and continues until January 5, when we get ready to celebrate another great Feast, the Epiphany, on January 6.  On that day we commemorate the Magi, the Three Wise Men, arriving to worship the newborn King.
And today, here at St. John’s, we are also having an additional celebration – it is the 125th Anniversary of the death of our founder, Henry Porter Baldwin.  After the 10:00AM service and coffee hour, we will head over to Elmwood Cemetery (maps will be available) to lay a wreath at his monument.
Pictured is Governor Baldwin, his monument, and the house which was at one time located across Woodward Avenue where the freeway now stands.  It was in that house that he met, on December 6 and 13, to discuss the possibility of starting a parish, and on December 27, that the incorporation papers were signed and Vestry elected.  That day, in 1858, Henry Porter Baldwin was elected Senior Warden, a position that he held until his death on December 31, 1892.
A merchant turned banker, Governor Baldwin was a founder of the Republican Party, campaigned for Abraham Lincoln, was elected Governor of Michigan, and then appointed by the state legislature to be the US Senator from Michigan (Senators were not directly elected back then).
He was a great civic leader for Detroit, as well as a luminary in the Episcopal Church.  He was a member of the Diocese Standing Committee for 48 years, and for nearly 50 years represented the Diocese of Michigan as a delegate to The General Convention.
The Vestry published a book of remembrances shortly after his death, which was unknown to me until recently when a copy from the University of Michigan Library appeared on Google Books.  In it are tributes from the business, government, and church community, reprints of his newspaper obituaries, and his funeral sermon.
The Rev. William Prall, the Rector of St. John’s in 1892, wrote this of Henry Porter Baldwin’s commitment to the work of the Church as One, Holy, and Catholic – a true High Churchman:

It must not be doubted, as a layman, he believed in the apostolicity of the Episcopal Church; he believed that the Bishops are the true successors of the Apostles.  He felt that  we have a treasure, the treasure of true catholicity, which we, the rightful trustees, hold for the use of the American people.  He did his best, and that best was always excellent, to augment the Episcopate, to make the apostolicity of our Communion known to all; to broaden men’s ideas of the scope of Catholic truth; to deepen their love for the love of God.
In addition to his diocesan involvement and work with the General Convention, he also served on many church related boards which required him to travel to New York several times a year, not an easy task in the 19th century.  In his funeral panegyric, Fr. Prall notes that the founding of St. John’s was motivated by Baldwin’s desire to serve all mankind.  While Senior Warden of another parish in the city someone said, “The Episcopal Church is a church only for the wealthy and ambitious; there is no room for the poor and the humble in it,”  He replied, “It is not so; if it were, I would leave it at once.”  We all know this is not so, and one of the proofs that it is not, is the action that Henry Porter Baldwin then took.  He went home and thought the matter over.  It occurred to him that there was room for another parish north of the Campus Martius, and that there were many people there, some of them plain and simple, who were unchurched; so he resolved that a new parish should be formed.  And so he set in motion the founding of St. John’s.
In a copy of his Will we have in our possession, we find that he not only left money to his family and St. John’s ($5,000, the equivalent of $130,000 now), but to the Diocese, the National Church, the former St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital, Home, and Orphanage in Detroit (now Canterbury on the Lake in Waterford), The Protestant Asylum, the Women’s Hospital, the Children’s Free Hospital, Elmwood Cemetery (where he is buried), the University of Michigan (where he served as a trustee and gave a building on campus while living) and most of his art to the Detroit Museum of Art.
Today we honor his memory.  Unlike the men who followed him and are remembered with public statuary, such as Hazen Pingree who sits in Grand Circus Park looking towards St. John’s – he bought H.P. Baldwin’s shoe store from him – there are two grand edifices on which his memory rests.  One is the State Capital building, which he proposed and convinced the legislature to build and for which he laid the cornerstone, and the other is this parish church.  We give thanks to God for Henry Porter Baldwin’s vision, faithfulness, and generosity.