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, November 15, 2007

Rector's Rambling for this Sunday and next - ATTENDANCE

Oh no – not another attendance diatribe from the Rector!!! I am sorry to say, that is what this week’s rambling is. Of course, those of you in Church reading this are HERE today, and I thank God for that! But attendance at St. John’s has been slipping from our highest modern level in the past two years. This is a cause of great anxiety for me as your priest and pastor, being entrusted with the care of souls! From 2000 to 2005 average Sunday attendance (ASA) at St. John’s grew from below 50 to over 200 people, with many Sundays having attendance in the 220’s and 230’s.
On a recent weekend there were about 180 people in Church at our three morning services.
An email exchange with a member of the vestry about this change got thinking. Within a few minutes of thinking and listmaking, I came up with some interesting things numbers…..
In the past two years nine families with 42 people have moved out of area/state for new employment. There is nothing we can do about this other than pray for our economy.
In the same time period 9 more families with 15 people have left St. John’s because we are either too biblically conservative for some, or not extreme enough in our political stand against the diocese/Episcopal Church and therefore not conservative enough for these others. Not sure we can do anything about this category either other than continue to pray.
A disturbing group are the 14 families that have stopped coming regularly for a variety of reasons (work, personal/family issues, lukewarmness – other reasons only God knows). Of course we pray, love and offer support and encouragement to get them back into the fold.

But on this particular Sunday in question, in 5 minutes I came up with the names of SIXTY-FIVE FAMILIES, with 120 people, who are pretty regular in Church attendance who were not in Church! Some were sick, others traveling out of state. But where were the others?
Where are our priorities? Are we putting our Lord first? What is more important than our relationship with our Good God who sent His Son to die for us on the Cross – and his desire for us to worship Him every Sunday in His Church?

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In last week’s Rambling I mused upon the recent slow-down and decline in Sunday Attendance in the past two year. I pointed out a number of people who have left to find employment out of state, others who have left due to theological/political problems with St. John’s and her continued membership in the Episcopal Church. Those are things for which we have no direct ability to fix: I can’t revive Michigan’s economy, and we are called to be a bible-believing, faithful Anglican Parish in the Episcopal Church. But we continue to pray about both of the above.

Far more troubling to me were the 120 (or more) people who are “regulars” who were missing on the Sunday in particular, and the another group of families who have ‘disappeared’ and not responded to contact from the clergy.

I know people travel on weekends, and some get sick and cannot be with us. I hope those who are traveling are going to Church elsewhere, and if sickness continues for several days the clergy will be called for anointing and communion at home or in the hospital.

But it is those others who are not here in church for worship that worries me. As the priest and pastor of this parish I cannot stress strongly enough that our Lord expects us to be in Church EVERY Sunday. As it says in the second Office of Instruction in the prayer book (p. 291) My bounden duty is to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of His Kingdom. And of course it is only through the vehicle of The Church that we can receive the grace of the Blessed Sacrament to live this life we are called to, and without which we spiritually die (John 6:54ff).

So why are people absent from Church? Distracted by the cares of the world? Not completely converted to Christ? Misplaced priorities or ignorance of God’s expectation to be in Church every week? Too busy for the Lord? Too tired based on being too busy? Unrepentant sin and a guilty conscience? Falling out with a fellow parishioner at St. John’s? Too restless/undisciplined to give God 80 minutes of worship? __________ (fill in the blank with one I have forgotten)?

Believe it or not, all of those things are solved not by absenting yourself from worship, but resolving by the same Grace of the Sacrament to be present in Church every Sunday and learning to participate in this new life. God wills it, and will help you do it!