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

Friday, April 28, 2006

Sunday Attendance is important....

....because Jesus wills it!

Below is an article, circulated today by the American Anglican Council from The Church of England's newspaper, reporting on the fact that Episcopalians have one of the lowest rates of attendance. St. John's certainly does better than the 32% reported for the Episcopal Church. But as I look out each week and do a 'who is missing' list (usually compiled on paper later Sunday afternoon), it is a humbling reminder that even on a day when we have 200+ people in church, there is another 50 to 75 people I can list who are parishioners who are not there.

Not only is it vital to be in Church on Sunday so you can be fed in Word and Sacrament, but also our glorious worship is taken to a higher level when the Church is fuller - imagine adding another 50 people every week to the prayers, responses, singing, and fellowship! Being in Church not only helps you, but your presence lifts others up AND is more welcoming to the newcomer.

That being said - see you in Church on Sunday, and invite a friend or five!
Source: Church of England Newspaper
Number: 5817 Date: Apr 28
By George Conger
AMERICAN Episcopalians have the lowest rate of worship attendance of any Christian denomination, a Gallup poll reports. Episcopalians come third from last on the table of weekly attendance with less than one in three attending services, beating only Jews and those who have no religion. The Episcopal Church “is prone to attract people with less sense of being full-blown Episcopalians than simply participants in a particular congregation that happens to be Episcopal” the Rev Dr William Sachs, Vice President for Learning and Leadership at the Episcopal Church Foundation in New York, told The Church of England Newspaper. “The good news is that we get people in the door; the challenge is to hold them and to form them,” Dr Sachs, the Church’s leading statistician, noted.
In a series of interviews conducted from 2002 to 2005, Gallup interviewed 11,000 adult Americans and asked, “How often do you attend church or synagogue — at least once a week, almost every week, about once a month, seldom, or never?” Approximately 44 per cent of American adults reported attending worship services weekly, or almost weekly, the April 14 report stated. The results varied among religious groups and denominations with almost two-thirds of Mormons, conservative Protestants and Pentecostal Protestants reporting they attended weekly services. Roman Catholics and members of the ‘mainline’ Protestant churches: Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians varied in attendance between 43 and 45 per cent. Episcopalians came last among Christian denominations, reporting only 32 per cent weekly attendance while Jews reported only 15 per cent attendance.
Dr Sachs noted that Sunday worship attendance did not completely measure the vitality of the Church. “We often put great emphasis on small-group life either in study and prayer groups or in mission and outreach groups. “The good news is that active congregations offer a variety of doorways to participation; the bad news is that too often we are unclear about our identity as Christians and our direction as Episcopal congregations. People like to know where they are going and why,” he said.
Conflict within the Church may have diminished attendance as well, he noted. However the “most important factor” Dr Sachs said, was that people “want clear religious identity and clear, practical purpose”. “A dual focus on formation and on mission would do much to enhance the Episcopal Church’s life,” he said.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Low Sunday? Not at St. John's!

This past Sunday is known in Church circles as "low Sunday" since attendance is usually depressingly low, especially after the wonderful crowds on Easter (our attendance on Easter 2006 was 420 people - up 53 from last year). Even though the choir was down to a quartet this Sunday (which sounded great) instead of the usual 17, nothing else was 'low' about ur services on The First Sunday after Easter! In fact, we had 4 more people at services this week than on Palm Sunday (260 total).

How? BAPTISMS! We had 10 batisms from 6 families. A hearty DEO GRATIAS for the baptisms of Connor Baggett (infant), Miles DewBerry & Damani Dewberry (newborn and 1 year old brothers), Ian Guffy & Lilly Guffy (newborn twins), Margaret Kelly (my 3 month old daughter), Piper Perkins & Jon-Jon Perkins (6 and 4 year old siblings, and Cici Vogt & Severin Vogt (mom and newborn son). Additionally, at the end of the service we awarded an Episcopal Serviceman's Cross to Marine Lance Corporal Alan Mullin as he begins his active duty tour this week. When we do this, there are lots of tears and a standing ovation from the congregation for our young men serving our country and protecting our freedom.

I know that baptisms usually occur Easter weekend, particularly at the Vigil, but having it on "Low Sunday" (A.K.A. Doubting Thomas Sunday or Divine Mercy Sunday) sure continued the joy of the Easter celebration!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Sermon Topics...

It looks like the Archbishop of Canterbury and I had some common themes in our Easter Sermon! Below is an article from the London Telegraph www.telegraph.co.uk . However, the reporter has some facts mixed up at the end, calling the pope's Good Friday meditation an Easter Sermon, and calling Judas the 13th Apostle (there were only 12).

Archbishop attacks Da Vinci Code 'obsession'By Elizabeth Day (Filed: 16/04/2006)
The Archbishop of Canterbury today attacks society's obsession with books such as The Da Vinci Code which, he says, encourage people to believe that the Christian faith is a series of "conspiracies and cover ups".

In a strongly worded Easter sermon being delivered in Canterbury Cathedral this morning, Dr Rowan Williams says that there is a tendency to treat Biblical texts "as if they were unconvincing press releases from some official source, whose intention is to conceal the real story". Fascination with "bringing secrets to light", he said, evoked All the President's Men, the 1976 film about the investigative journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, who exposed the Watergate scandal.

"We have become so suspicious of the power of words. . . the first assumption we make is that we're faced with spin of some kind, with an agenda being forced on us. So that the modern response to the proclamation, 'Christ is risen!' is likely to be, 'Ah, but you would say that, wouldn't you? Now, what's the real agenda?' "

The Da Vinci Code, by the American author Dan Brown, tells of a Church-led conspiracy to suppress Christ's marriage to Mary Magdalene and his fathering of a royal bloodline. The novel has sold more than 40 million copies and was the subject of an unsuccessful plagiarism action in the High Court this month.

The Gospel of Judas is also scorned by the Archbishop
The Archbishop also pours scorn on the recent discovery of a leather-bound papyrus written around 300AD believed to be "The Gospel of Judas", which claims that it was Christ himself who asked Judas to betray him.

"Anything that looks like the official version is automatically suspect," says Dr Williams. "Someone is trying to stop you finding out what 'really' happened, because what really happened could upset or challenge the power of officaldom."

In his first Easter sermon, on Friday, the Pope effectively dismissed the "Gospel" text by reasserting the orthodox thinking that Judas, the 13th apostle, "evaluated Jesus in terms of power and success". And Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, the Pope's personal priest, also used his Easter sermon to criticise The Da Vinci Code.

A Holy Day at St. John's!

What a wonderful day we had at St. John's for Easter! The Vigil Service had its largest attendance to date (41 - it is a good start). The early services had a total of 40, and the main service had over 330 people.

My first year at St. John's there were about 150 people at the Easter Services....we get significantly more than that on an average Sunday now! May God grant that our average Sunday at St. John's is over 400 people soon!

The first picture is the congregation at the end of the service -several people were on their way downstairs already to get ready for the egg hunt. The second is of me and some of the children after the Easter Egg Hunt. The third is our oldest parishioner, Vivan Hudson, and her son Bob. Finally, here is a shot of the family at the brunch we went to after the service

Now it is time for a day off. My mom flew in from Arizona last night (family is arriving for next week's baptism of Meg) and we are going to have a relaxing day and then tomorrow and Wednesday I will visit shut-ins, D.v..

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Easter Vigil

On Christmas Eve we have one of our largest crowds of worshippers at St. John's. On Christmas Day we have about 25 (or fewer). Those numbers are reversed on Easter. The more ancient "eve" to gather is Easter Eve - the Great Vigil Service! There is no finer, richer liturgy (Good Friday being a close second) that the Church presents for worship and edification!The service begins in total darkness. A fire is lit and the Paschal Candle (the big tall candle with the current year on it) is blessed and lit. This represents the Church and World coming out of darkness as Christ rises from the dead (He is the Light of the World!). Then the Exultat - and ancient hymn explaining the theology of the Resurrection - is chanted. After this we read a series of prophecies from the Old Testament, from Creation to the foretelling of God's promise of a Saviour. Then we bless the Baptismal Font, and renew our baptismal promises. We then kneel and sing the Litany of the Saints, reminding our selves that in our worship we are surrounded by a wonderful crowd of witnesses.

At the end of the litany (the Church is stlll 'under-lit'), the lights are turned on and the resurrection is proclaimed - HE IS RISEN INDEED! We then have Holy Communion!

It is a powerful symbolic liturgy, and one of the most ancient of the Church....and it is underattended at St. John's! Would that more and more people would take advantage if this worship opportunity! And yes, if you want you can come back on Sunday morning for all the festivities!

Plan now to come down to St. John's by 8pm on Saturday and participate in this great service. It is held in the Chapel (use the Freeway Service Drive entrance).

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

The most sorrowful and solemn day of the year is commemorated with the most beautiful and moving liturgy the Church has to offer!
Made up of 4 distinct parts, this Service begins with the Liturgy of the Word, including the singing of St. John’s Passion. This is followed by the ancient prayers for Good Friday, the Solemn Collects.
The third portion is the Veneration of the Cross, an opportunity to thank your Lord for his Atoning sacrifice, as the Reproaches are Sung.
Finally, we will have the Mass of the Pre-sanctified, receiving the Holy Sacrament consecrated on Maundy Thursday and Watched in our Garden. Multiple Sermons will also be preached, and you are free to come and go as your work schedule allows.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Garden Watch

A great devotional tradition during Holy Week is to spend an hour with Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, in our own Garden of Gethsemane.
At the end of the Maundy Thursday Service the Sacrament will be moved in procession to the Chapel. The Chapel Sanctuary will be decorated with plants to recall the Garden, and the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed on the Altar for you to adore Him and meditate on the Saving Acts that He has endured for our Salvation. There will be devotional material available to read during this time to focus your mind and your heart, or you can just sit there quietly and gaze with love upon Him. The Garden will be available until 10pm (or until the last person leaves after the Maundy Thursday Service) and reopens at 9am until Noon.

Maundy Thursday

We begin this evening with the celebration of the Holy Communion with 3 special meanings.
First, it is where the Maundy, the anglicized version of the Latin Mandatum - is given, that new Commandment that we love one another as Jesus loves us. This is symbolized in the liturgy by The Rector washing the feet of the parishioners, in obedience to our Blessed Lord’s command to his Apostles (John 13:14-15).
Secondly, it is the this evening at the Apostle’s commemoration of the Passover Meal that Jesus institutes the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. Therefore the priest wears white vestments and we sing with gusto this evening since it is a High Feast.
Related to this, thirdly, it is also the night that our Lord institutes the Sacred Priesthood to the Apostles to carry on His sacramental ministry.
After the glory of the Liturgy, in commemoration of Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane after Supper, and the abandonment by the Apostles, we strip the Sanctuary and Altar bare as we solemnly recite Psalm 22.
My God, My God, why hast thou abandoned me…..
In about an hour we go from joyous celebration for the Mandatum, Communion, and Priesthood, to shock and horror at our Lord’s betrayal, arrest, and impending crucifixion!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Rocket Club

When not 'doing theology' or other pastoral things, or coaching Andrew's baseball, I like to steal away with my oldest son, Sam, to fire off some rockets at the Jackson Model Rocketry Club launches. It is GREAT fun. Sam is a real rocket genius (as anyone at St. John's who has engaged him in a conversation about them can attest), and at the launches I am basically known as Sam's dad, or Sam's driver.

Here are some pictures from the launch, taken by Eldred Pickett. Eldred lives by us on the east side, but also drives all the way out to Jackson to launch. But he launches the really big rockets, with lots of power, electronics, etc. Sam can't wait to be 18 to begin being certified for the High Powered Rockets!

That is a picture of Sam gettting ready for a launch, and his rocket taking off from the launch pad. Also, here is a picture of Eldred with one of his BIG rockets! That is Scott with him. Scott is the grand pooh-bah of the JMRC, or so it seems to Sam and me.

One nice thing about the rocket launches is that it is not only great to send off these rockets and retrieve them (usually), but the folks who are there are really great, and it for Sam - it is a great opportunity to 'talk shop' with others who understand his passion for Rockets.

For info on the JMRC go to www.jmrconline.org

Don't believe the hype!

There has been a lot of news stories about the gnostic Gospel of Judas. This is classic news coverage fueled by a desire to discredit biblically sound Christianity, as we well as the desire to make the 'almighty dollar'.

The problem is that if these fragments are in fact really the gnostic text attributed to Judas (some scholars doubt even that - reconstructing fragments is quite a task), remember that gnostic gospels fell out of use because they were false. Usually written by one sect or another and attributed to a long-dead apostle or disciple, these types of writings were proposed as some sort or 'secret' true knowledge (the meaning of the word 'gnostic') that has been hidden for a time and/or from those who are not enlightened. Of course, the classic example of a more modern day text like this is the Book of Mormon (hidden on golden tablets, only to be interpreted thousands of years later by Joseph Smith, using secret devices, and then the originals were spirited away again by the angel who revealed it to him). The other corillary to this is the modernist scholar/clergy in the church who takes scripture and begins his/her interpretation with "what it really means is..." or ends it with "but we know better now/we have advanced past that culturally".

Finally, as you see from the article below, ultimately this whole stir is about MILLIONS of dollars to be made in royalty publishing and broadcast rights! I found it on a website called The Tertullian Project www.tertullian.org/

Don't belive the hype about this new 'gospel'!
From NewsWithViews.com]
Gospel of Judas: Authentic Fraud (9th April 2006)
An article by Jon Christian Ryter contains various interesting details, and sensible comments on attempts to misrepresent the text.
The publishing rights of the recently found "lost" gospel of Judas Iscariot----which was converted into a made-for-TV spectacular on Sunday, April 9 on the National Geographic Channel----was secured by the National Geographic Society for a contribution to the manuscript's owner----the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art----purported to be more than $1 million to date. (The money was contributed by Gateway Computer founder Ted Waitt.) The Society has now embarked on a concerted effort to mainstream the apocryphal 3rd, 4th or 5th century AD papyrus manuscript as the legitimate diary of Judas Iscariot. The Gospel of Judas suggests that Judas was instructed by Christ to betray Him to the Sanhedrin so that His death would fulfill the Old Testament Messianic prophecies.
The Society plans several magazine articles, television specials and, they said, book deals as the controversy over the ethics of accepting ancient acquisitions on their own merit heats up in the media. ...
James M. Robinson, professor emeritus at Claremont Graduate University, America's leading expert on ancient religious texts from Egypt, said that while the codex is old, it simply isn't old enough. "Does it go back to Judas? No." Robinson told the Associated Press. "There are a lot of second-, third- and fourth- century gospels attributed to various apostles. We don't really assume they give us any first century information."
In his new book,
The Secrets of Judas (Harper-SanFrancisco), Robinson describes the secret maneuvering between Mario Jean Roberty, the Swiss lawyer who founded the Maecenas Foundation for Ancient Art, his client, Frieda Nussberger-Tchakos who bought the codex in 1999 for $300 thousand, Michael van Rijn----an art dealer, confidence man, smuggler, forger and author of an expose on art antiquities, Hot Art, Cold Cash; and two other key players----Ali and Hicham Aboutaam who are the two most notorious cultural heritage thieves in the world. Robinson's book deals with a two decade sales pitch by Roberty----first to buy, and then to sell the content of the Judas manuscript. The asking price was $10 million, but Roberty let it be known that the right buyer could steal it for $3 million.
However, the Maecenas Foundation was not allowed to sell the document under a Swiss law that forbids the sale of illegal antiquities. In other words, the "ownership pedigree"----the legal chain of ownership----of the codex has not been clearly established. Since Roberty cannot legally sell the codex he did the next best thing, he's selling the content. According to Roberty, he bought the codex from Tchakos in 2001 for $1.5 million and 50% the proceeds from the sale of its content. Roberty claims to have already spent more than $1 million on its restoration. Roberty may have found the fund-raisers best scheme and the National Geographic Society has the credibility to give the pseudepigraphic document the aura of authenticity it has thus far lacked....
The Coptic Orthodox Church has dismissed the codex as non-Christian babbling resulting from a group of people trying to create a false 'amalgam' between Greek mythology, the Far East religions and Christianity. The codex was written by a group of people who were alien to the main Christian stream of early Christianity. "The texts," Metropolitan Bishoy, the theological leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church. said. "are neither reliable nor accurate Christian texts, as they are historically and logically alien to the main Christian thinking, and philosophy of the early and present Christians."

Monday, April 10, 2006

A busy day surrounding St. John's

Perhaps the most choatic day around St. John's is Tiger Opening Day. No matter how good or bad the Tigers are, it is always a sell-out, with lots of fans (even those without tickets) coming down early in the day to enjoy the festivities.

Many local radio stations broadcast live from neighboring bars and restaurants, and the restaurants open as early as 6am for those coming down early (there aren't many places around here open before lunch most days). I heard on my drive down that Pittsburgh Steeler, Jerome Bettis, who was throwing out the first pitch, was going to be across the street at Hockeytown Cafe on the radio, so I wandered over to see him. I didn't see him, but I ended up talking on the radio about our "Pray here for the Tigers" service and banner. Later, I went for a walk around the neighborhood, hoping to get a ticket to the game. I popped into another restaurant and was invited to speak on the air on WJR 760AM with Frank Beckman. More FREE PR for St. John's!

Last minute, Chris, our Olympia Parking supervisor got me into the game. Thank you Chris.
The only bad point is that the Tigers lost 5-3.

The top picture is me at the stadium (the lighting was bad...really it is me in the shadow). The second and third ones is the church with the crowds leaving the game. The last one is a shot of the new parking lot that replaced the former Motown HQ, ripped down during the Super Bowl preparations. The photos were taken from the top level of the Fox Garage across Woodward from St. John's.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Yes Tiger Fans - that Detroit baseball team is undefeated; five and oh!

One more road game in Texas, and then the home opener Monday. And what great fun it is around St. John's on Opening Day! And how about that Chris Shelton - 5 home runs already, and batting .722 after 5 games!

Tomorrow (Sunday) is our PRAY HERE FOR THE TIGERS Service at 12:30 - Hope springs eternal!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Preparing for Baptism

God has blessed St. John's with a spate of new parishioners to be baptised, mostly in the form of newborns (including two sets of twins), but also some older children and an adult as well.

So far we have the 10 people scheduled for Baptism on Sunday, April 23rd.
This is "Low Sunday", the Sunday after Easter. It is called "Low Sunday" because after the Festivities and large attendance of Easter, the mood and attendance are usually a bit lower - but not at St. John's with so many baptisms scheduled!

Please pray for Connor Baggett, Miles DewBerry, Damani Dewberry, Ian Guffy, Lilly Guffy, Margaret Kelly, Piper Perkins, Jon-Jon Perkins, Cici Vogt, Severin Vogt - all scheduled to be baptised on the 23rd.

Also to be baptised in the following weeks (will be away on the 23rd): Jack Hudson-Nelson, Gordon Hudson-Nelson.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

April Baseball

Tonight we had Little League Baseball Practice (my son Andrew plays, I help coach). It was 35 degrees and very windy.

And yes, snowing!!!! Just flurries but still......

I love this game!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Powerful emotions

While browsing around the net this afternoon, I came across the following movie preview clip.


It is a clip for the upcoming movie about United Flight 93, that was hijacked on September 11th, 2001, and crashed in Pennsylvania, not too far from my former parish in Charleroi. Watching the clip brought back some very powerful emotions about that day! Don't watch the clip is you don't want to shed a few tears.....