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

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Rector's Report to the Annual Parish Meeting 2006

After last year’s report about my fear that we had become stagnant, having hit a plateau in our growth, and worried that we had slipped into a malaise, I am grateful to report that once again we have begun to grow. By mid-summer God began bringing new people into our midst again, to be incorporated into the Body of Christ. It has been exciting to be a part of their new life in Christ and to see how those new lives are revitalizing us as well!
2005 was filled with many highlights: visits by Bishops Biggers and MacBurney, two glorious Choral Evensongs and the Corpus Christi service which showcased the talents of our Choir program, hosting of the Liberian Schools American Reunion, the Diocesan Healing Seminar for the Order of St. Luke, a successful Alpha Course, an Armitage Club fundraising dinner for the Cornerstone Schools, participation in the Just Give Me Jesus revival, hosting of concerts for several organizations, increased attendance at weekday and Sunday services, and the establishment of the Edwards Organ Scholarship. We have much to be grateful for, and look forward with anticipation to what the Lord has in store for us in this year to come.
One thing that the Vestry has begun discussing is our upcoming Sesquicentennial Celebration. On December 27th, 2008, St. John’s will be 150 years old. Already, informal discussions about possible events and activities have gotten us looking forward in anticipation. A speaker series, music series, special historical worship and social events, and the publication of a new parish history are all in the offing.
But as we look forward to that day, I have taken some time to glance backwards as well. Taking a few minutes each day to read old Chronicles and Vestry Minutes, and other documents in our archives, several things continue to impress me. St. John’s was founded as a parish, not a mission. Before a building was ever erected, or a common worship service held, there were enough people signed on that we were awarded parish status. Within a week of the opening of our first building, the Chapel, the pews were already over-subscribed and plans immediately had to be made to build a bigger Church 10 times the size of the Chapel! From the 1870’s (within 15 years of our founding) until the early 1930’s this was the largest Episcopal congregation west of the Allegheny Mountains! St. John’s was different from the other parishes in the diocese; prayer book catholic with ‘High Church’ ideals about the sacraments, the nature of the Church, and serving the poor. We were mission minded, founding 8 other parishes during those first 70 years!
The next 70 years were times of trial. A longtime member of this parish once told the Vestry, that a Rector here in the 1950’s, said he was sent to basically ‘stop the bleeding’ as Detroit changed and the parish shrank. By the 1960’s, and through the 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s, a great deal of energy was expended trying to uphold the faith once delivered to the saints, while the rest of our denomination was changing many of the foundations of Anglicanism. It all took a toll on St. John’s, the second 70 years being ones of decline, and eventually, a fight for survival.
We’re now at the beginning of our third 70 year period. Many of the urban problems that have plagued Detroit since the 1930’s continue, with new ones to boot. Many of the theological problems of the recent past, with their modern mutations, continue to erode the foundations of the denomination. And this old pile of stones, at the intersection of I-75 and Woodward, cries out for constant (and expensive) renovation and updating. But a corner has been turned. We are growing.
In thinking about that Sesquicentennial Celebration coming up in just under three years, I realized that the best thing we can do is to become big again. The best gift we can give is to become that large parish we once were as a gift to our Lord and His Church.
Today I am announcing a challenge to you, the people of St. John’s. For our 150th Anniversary we need to bring 150 more members to St. John’s! 150 more members for our 150th Anniversary! 150 more by conversion, birth and baptism, adoption, transfer from another parish, or by their own acclamation to be members here. Over the next three years we will focus on evangelism – sharing the faith with our friends. We will ask the Holy Spirit to give us boldness to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord to those around us by word and deed. We will seek to serve others in Jesus’ name in order to show them the Love of Christ.
Why? Because God wills it! He wills that all come to Him and worship Him. We are called to be the vehicle to draw others to Him that He may be glorified. Growth begets growth. Remember how full the Church felt on Christmas Eve at the midnight service? 150 more members would make it feel that full on Sunday. Remember how heartily the hymns were sung, and that feeling of excitement of having people on either side, and front and back, praying and praising together? 150 more members would bring that to every Sunday. And those 150 more people will be 150 more to also invite friends into a relationship with our Lord in this place while the original group is still inviting – giving exponential growth!
And with all those additional people, think of the various ministries God can begin and sustain through this people of this parish. Think of the witness a large, traditional Anglican, bible-believing parish would be to a diocese that is shrinking under the weight of a failed modern/post-modern theology. Think of the number of lay diocesan leaders, and future ordained clergy, which can be produced by a parish that is dedicated to serving Jesus, and to bringing more and more people to Him, thereby influencing the diocese and the national denomination.
150 more members for our 150th Anniversary! Soon there will be a poster on the bulletin board listing those new people, where they came from and WHO INVITED THEM. We will be able to see the growth in numbers, and see just how many people come through the Alpha Course, and other ministries or courses in the parish. Most people will come here because people invite them. Individuals, inviting individuals and families to come to St. John’s, will make up the lion’s share of those 150 more members.
Yes, there are problems in the Episcopal Church and our world-wide Anglican Communion. Yes, there are theological problems in our diocese, and we are saddened to see those who were with us in the fight for the soul of the Episcopal Church feel compelled by their conscience to leave. But we cannot be derailed by such things. More than Episcopalians, we are Christians! And, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called know Christ and make Him known, and that will be our primary, positive focus – even here in the Episcopal Church.
I am not the first person to sense this explosive growth coming on. Several people have confirmed that sense that we are about to really grow! It is exciting and even a bit scary. But if we continue to trust Him and be faithful, He will provide everything necessary and more! All by His Grace and All to His Glory.

I am looking forward, God willing, to 2006, 2007, and 2008.

Who are you inviting to Church next week?