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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

150 Years Ago TODAY

Today, 150 years ago, it became 'official'. The legal documents had been signed two weeks ago in the presence of the Diocesan Bishop, but it was today - The Feast of St. John's, that the first Parish Meeting was held.

I imagine it must have been an exciting moment in time. Christmas Day was just two days past, and everyone present would have known that they had just spent their last Christmas at their former parishes (primarily the old St. Paul's when it was on the river, Christ Church and Mariner's Church in Detroit).

It was probably just a 'given' that Henry Porter Baldwin, the man who had bought the property for the new parish buildings, commissioned the blue prints for a Church, a Chapel, and a Rectory, and called the three meetings in December at his house, would be elected Senior Warden. Afterall, he had been Jr. Warden at St. Paul's for many years, and Senior Warden there since Easter. Other officers and vestry members were elected - and St. John's officially came into existance!

It would be another month before the contractor was chosen, until April that the official cornerstone was laid, June until the Rector-to-be was elected (and he didn't formally accept until September), and in November that the Chapel was opened AND already too small.

But all that is ahead of us in a year of celebrations to come.

We have no record of how long the meeting was. What was the weather? Was it a social gathering as well (I imagine Harriett Cornelia Baldwin must have laid out a few things to eat and drink)? And we have no account of anything but the business conducted.

Today, at St. John's, in addition to our wonderful Christmas Lessons and Carols Service to begin the celebration, we have set up an historic display on the Undercroft Stage. There are photos of the founder, first rector, and the Church over the years (it had major cosmetic and structural renovations in 1888, 1892, 1915 and 1937). There is also a display of buildings that were and never were: our old parish hall that was demolished in the 1970's, and proposed buildings that were never constructed. We will also have a display of some liturgical items, including a rare lithograph version of the 1892 Altar Book. And on a third display will be the hand-written account of that first official meeting: written into the first Parish Register by our first Rector. Also contained in that same book are the signatures of guest preachers, including three men who are included in The Episcopal Church's book Lesser Feasts and Fasts - the closest thing to a book of saints for the Episcopal Church. (Bishop Jackson Kemper of Wisconsin, Fr. James Lloyd Breck the first dean of Nashotah House Seminary and missionary at that time to Minnesota, and Fr. James DeKoven the sometime Nashotah faculty member and president of Racine College).
Photos - Circa 1900 and 1933 - from the collection of the Library of Congress