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, August 24, 2006

At today's monthly Requiem Mass

As we do each month (now 4th Thursdays, was 3rd) we had our Guild of All Souls Requiem Mass today. And as we always do at the monthly requiem, we read the names of all parishioners, since 1859, who have died in the month of August. This is called a Chantry List, and every day at Evening Prayer we also remember those who have died on that day of the year. Sometimes I read off the name of someone I have buried, bringing back memories of them and their families. Other times I recognize the name of someone relatively famous in Detroit history, whom I know from either the parish history book, my involvement on the foundation of Elmwood Cemetery, or general history interest.

Today, we prayed for two little boys, twins - William and Frank, the newborn sons of Fr. William Armitage, the first Rector of St. John's. They died in August of 1860. In the first two years as Rector, Fr. Armitage had 3 sons die. Only one child, a daughter, survived into adulthood.

Looking back in the burial registers, it is stunning to see how many children died within days/weeks/months of their birth. In other places you see spates of deaths from TB (called consumption), and a variety of other diseases now vaccinated against and virtually eliminated. What a different life we live now!

Thinking back to Fr. Armitage, I can't imagine how he or his wife Charlotte survived the loss 3 children in the first 2 years as Rector! The parish was booming in growth from its founding in 1859 to 1866 - when he left there were over 800 families in the parish. He only stayed 3 more years, but was obviously expecting to stay much longer...he bought a 24 space family plot at Elmwood. Only 5 spaces were used (3 boys, wife and Fr. A). He was elected the second bishop of Wisconsin, and died 6 years after that (1873). His wife survived until 1921!

So I am going home soon, to hug my wife and kids, and thank God for their health!