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, February 27, 2006

Five Year Anniversary at St. John's

It was with great joy that I commemorated my 5th Anniversary as the priest at St. John's. 5 years ago I stepped to the altar, and the pulpit for the first time; the last weekend in February and the last Sunday of the Epiphany (just like yesterday's service). In many ways it seems as if I just came here only a few months ago (tempus fugit) - but it also feels like I have been here a very long time, because coming back to the Detroit area was coming home.

Anniversaries makes one wax nostolgic. This past weekend made me think about all the changes and challenges, and people who have come and gone in the last five years.

Attendance the 5 weeks before I arrived was about 55 people (12 of whom were the paid choir!). That first Easter (2001) we had 142 people at Easter Sunday Services.
The last 5 weeks this year of 2006 we have had an average of about 200 people in Church, and Easter 2005 was 367 people.
Christmas 2001 was 184 people, 2005 was 451 people.
It is a good start (how often have the people at St. John's heard me say that!). FYI - in 1925 we had over 2600 people at the 7 English speaking (including American Sign Language) services at St. John's, not including the 1500 Armenians at their services held in St. John's as well!

We have seen other big church challenges. In the first year here we had to do $380,000 worth of urgent stone and roof repairs to the building (precipitated by a 400 lbs stone falling off the entryway). What a sight to see them taking the ridge cap off the top of the roof to restore it, pumping out 'thigh high' pigeon droppings from the bell tower, and removing all the coping stones at the top of the walls to re-waterproof it, and rebuilding all the chimneys (9 of them), several of which were leaning at a 35% angle and restoring and remounting the original bell over the Chapel entranceway! It was a real undertaking of faith, since we only had about 80 people in Church on an average Sunday at that time. We got one HUGE gift from the Altar Guild, several other large gifts, and the parishioners made pledges over the next 3 years to help pay if off, expecting that more people would join the parish and enter into our labors of paying it off! The loan ($180,000) has now been paid down to below $50,000.

We have had a great number of baptisms in these first 5 years - 46 of them. 8 have been adults, and 5 of the children were old enough to answer for themselves (one was baptised in Polish, since she had just been adopted from there - my two years of polish at Orchard Lake St. Mary's came in handy here!). 42 people have been confirmed or received, and 27 couples married. 31 people have been buried from St. John's Church, 5 of whom were not parishioners.

Liturgically, St. John's had adapted well to 'coming up higher' . 2nd and 5th Sunday's Morning Prayer was complemented by the addition of Holy Communion (from the "Lift up your hearts" onwards) to make it a complete service of worship and reception of the sacrament. Weekday Masses have gone from 1 to 3, and the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer are now prayed during the week in the Chapel. Stations of the Cross are prayed on Fridays in Lent, and Adoration and Benediction are prayed on the first Thursdays, and weekly in Lent. Corpus Christi is celebrated with grand solemnity, and a monthly proper requiem Mass is said. A daily chantry list was found in the sacristy safe (from 1859 to 1931) and updated to have the parish dead remembered daily, and at the monthly mass. Proper Eucharistic Vestments are now worn weekly, incense used, the minor propers chanted at Sunday 10am Mass. All these additions add to the beauty of holiness in worship at St. John's.

Socially, we have hosted the Diocesan Convention here at St. John's, instituted a Shrove Tuesday Talent Show with the Pancake Supper, Yearly outing to the Tigers Game with the Choir singing the National Anthem (one year I threw out a pitch and led the singing of "take me out to the ball game"), held a multitude of concerts ranging from the Jean Langlais Conference, Detroit Concert Choir, Mariner's Inn Christmas Concert, Detroit Police Gospel Concert, and a multitude of individual artists and organists. Other social events have included to see the Rockette Christmas Show (tickets complimentary of the Fox for blessing the camels and sheep in the show), hosting groups for the Super Bowl and Baseball All-State Game, the film crew of the movie The Island (a box office flop), Pancake and Donut sales for the Thanksgiving Day parades (and opening the Church for that as well as the Red Wing Stanley Cup victory parade).

Spiritually, in addition to the worship, we have added Sunday Adult Education and Bible Study, even had a Summer mixed session with the kids on the Narnia books. Sunday School is picking up steam. The Alpha Course was a rousing success and we hope to have another soon. We had a great healing seminar with the Order of St. Luke, and have started/re-started growing chapters of the Daughters of the King and Brotherhood of St. Andrew & Jr. Brotherhood. The Acolyte Order of St. Vincent is in the planning stages. The ECW continues its good works, and the Armitage Club has also recently hosted some big events such as the Cornerstone Schools fundraising dinner. We now have 2 Third Order Franciscans and 2 aspirants, and a Sister in habit with the Sisters of the Sacred Cross.

Locally, I have gotten a chance to be involved with The Hopeful Clergy (some local traditionally minded Episcopal priests), The Cathedral Chapter, Historic Elmwood Foundation Board, and the Detroit Police Department Chaplain Corps. This last one has been especially gratifying - working with the officers and even getting to ride with the mounted unit before they were disbanded. I hope we can see them re-formed again soon.

As I look at this long list of things the parish has accomplished and participated in so far, I am greatly humbled to be a part of what God is doing at St. John's! I look forward (Deo Volente) to all that he has in store for this place in the near and far future!

(D.v) I look forward to the 10 baptism are scheduling for after Easter! I look forward to the continuing success of the 150 new person initiative to accomplish before our 150 anniversary of the founding in December of 2008. I look forward to this Downtown Development Authority Grant even though it means raising $50,000 more in the coming months (and add a new furnace to that too, it looks like). I look forward to whatever it is the God deems necessary and helpful to us as we grow in grace and size! May we be ready, and willing as He makes us able!