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.

My Photo
Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Friday, June 22, 2007

St. John's mention in the Detroit News Woodward Ave Series

I spoke on the phone with this reporter for 20 minutes, and faxed over some information about what "Piety Hill" means from our Centennial history book. This series has been running for several months, and after the first one appeared, I emailed the reporters and editors and recommended "Worship on Woodward" as an installment, which they hadn't planned yet. I have highligted the part about St. John's in the article below.
It can be found on line at http://detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070618/METRO/706180360&theme=Metro-Woodward

The road the righteous travel is like the sunrise, the Old Testament says: "Brighter and brighter until the daylight has come."
Churches on Woodward have led the faithful of Metro Detroit along the road to enlightenment for 200 years.
From the presidency of John Quincy Adams, through the industrial revolution and into an era of new technology, Woodward Avenue has provided a prominent place for worship.
Beginning in 1824 when Episcopalians established St. Paul's Church on Woodward between Congress and Larned streets, through 1999 and the dedication of the Detroit Michigan Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bloomfield Hills, the faithful have built dozens of worship houses along the grand avenue.
Today, there are 34 churches, from storefronts to cathedrals, on the 25-mile stretch of Woodward, from the Detroit River to downtown Pontiac.
"One of the things you notice about these churches is that they draw from well beyond their area," said Dennis Archambault of the Ecumenical Theological Seminary, which is on the site of the renovated former First Presbyterian Church, just north of Interstate 75. "They are magnet churches."
The avenue reflects much of the wide diversity of religious practices in the region: African Methodist Episcopalians, Baptists, Catholics, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, evangelicals, Greek Orthodox, Latter-day Saints, Methodists and nondenominational.
Indeed, around the start of the Civil War, the area from Grand Circus Park to Mack Avenue was dubbed "Piety Hill" because of the presence of a cluster of institutions that eventually included Central United Methodist Church, St. John's Episcopal Church, First Universalist Church, First Presbyterian and a synagogue, Temple Beth El.
Efforts to stay on Woodward have led some congregations to extremes. In 1936, amid the Depression, the Episcopalians dug under St. John's, near Comerica Park, to move the behemoth 60 feet so the city could widen the central artery. Just down the street, the Methodists were slicing up Central United Methodist and putting it back together like some giant jigsaw puzzle to accomplish the same feat.
Islam never rooted along the thoroughfare. But the first mosque in Detroit was just two blocks east, on Victor Street, near Henry Ford's Model T plant, where Muslims helped build autos and a metropolis.
Of all of the churches, today, the most diverse congregation is likely at St. Vincent de Paul in Pontiac. Blacks and whites worship there in large numbers, as do Filipinos and Hispanics. And the Hispanics are a diverse group unto themselves, with parishioners of Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban and Caribbean descents.
"You get a sense of the whole church when you look at our congregation, and when they look back up at the ministers," said the pastor, the Rev. Sean Sylvester. "You see an image of the church that is truly all of God's people."
The rich seek the divine on Woodward, along with the poor; the immigrants, with those of long-settled families.
As he helps guide a visitor on a tour of the recently renovated St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bloomfield Hills, Angelo Mago points to the brilliantly painted icons of the faith that adorn ceilings and walls and the display of the relics of saints. Mago describes the sensuality of Orthodox worship. "Not only are you hearing the liturgy, but the icons help visually to bring you into communion not only with other people but the history of the church," Mago said. "In the liturgical richness of the church, one of the things that's important in the Orthodox faith is that all of the senses be filled."