Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 52 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, March 23, 2006

Monthly Requiem

Today was our monthly Requiem Mass at St. John's. At this Holy Communion service we lift before the throne of God all those who have died and were buried from the parish since its founding (actually, since the opening of the Chapel in November 1859).

Shortly after I arrived here at St. John's, I found a 'Chantry Book' in the safe in the sacristy. This is a 366 day listing of everyone buried from St. John's (366 for the leap year). It was a list from 1859 to 1931. A Chantry Book is a sign that a parish kept a regular prayer rota remembering those who died. Shortly after I arrived, Denise Yee had some time to volunteer and she typed all names for those buried from 1932 to present onto an Excel Document, and later office assistant Tristan Williams transcribed the original type-written list onto the Excel spreadsheet as well. We now remember at Evening Prayer ALL those who have died on that particular day of the year since 1859, and once a month at the monthly Requiem we read the names of everyone buried during that month. How many are on the list? Well, we are now up to burial number 5402, so some months we have upwards of 500 names!

I find it facinating, to see names of famous Detroiters (like the Packards, Grosebecks, etc.) as well as those who are were every day folks who lived and died and now are at rest. And of course, I am reminded of the people that I have buried in my first 5 years here. In the first half of the history of the parish nearly all were buried at Elmwood Cemetery here in Detroit, for which I am on the Foundation Board and some names on the monuments are now becoming familiar.

It is interesting to note the picture I have included here. It is our original burial register from 1859. Fr. Armitage had GREAT handwritting. Of the first 17 burials, only two lived to adulthood (20 years and 33 years), one was 3 years old, and all the rest were less than a year old, including the Rector's twin sons (William Armitage on August 1st and Frank Lawrence Armitage on August 17th, 1860)!

Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them!