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

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rector's Rambling - November 29th, 2009

Happy New Church Year!

This Sunday begins the season of Advent, which means that we start the year all over again. In the course of the year we have gone through the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity-tide. Today we start it over again.
One criticism independent churches have of Anglican/Episcopal Churches is the rigidity of the liturgical calendar. Some even berate the celebration of things like Christmas at all (not the birth of Jesus, but setting a date to celebrate it).
But as human beings we live in this space and time, and the cycles of the year (winter, spring, summer and fall) are a reality. So too is the reality that the Church calendar takes this into account and helps us to order our year around different aspects of the story of our salvation through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Those without a set calendar or lectionary find themselves stuck with the whim and whimsy of the pastor’s preaching choices. Having a set year, which remains mostly unchanged in about 1900 years of Church history, frees us to cover multiple aspects of our Lord’s life and ministry. And in our unhappy sinful divisions, it is a comfort to know that we follow a like calendar with the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and many Reformed Churches as well.
So bring on the purple vestments and hangings! It is time for us to begin by looking at the end (of time that is...our Lord’s return) as well as the preparation of the people of original covenant for the fulfillment of the coming of their Messiah in the birth of Jesus.
And just as with the secular New Year we make resolutions, perhaps the Church New Year is a good time as well. Here are some suggestions!
1] Attend Church every Sunday (great for your spiritual health AND God wills it). 2] Pray every day.
3] Read the bible every day (you can use the lectionary for the Daily Office printed on page 3 of the Chronicle as a guide).
4] Choose a Church ministry or organization to become involved in if you are not already doing so (Adult Education, Altar Guild, Ushers, Acolytes, Lay Readers, Episcopal Church Women, Daughters of the King, Armitage Men’s Club, Brotherhood of St. Andrew, Sunday School teacher, Alpha Course, Faith Alive planning committee, Coffee Hour host, etc.).
5] Help with the outreach ministries of the parish (Can a week, Christmas gift program, mitten tree, toiletry collection for Salvation Army, baby clothes and supplies for Pregnancy aid) just to name a few.

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Rector's Rambling - November 22nd, 2009

7418 baptisms, 3402 weddings, and 5276 burials later, St. John's Church in Detroit begins her second 150 years of ministry (God willing). What a great celebration we had on Tuesday night as we gathered in the Chapel to commemorate the sesquicentennial of the first services held in that same building. The building was nearly full, and we sang Evensong in traditional Anglican fashion, as is not only our foundation but our present as well. Our diocesan Bishop was present, as the Bishop of Michigan was on that first day, and he was suitably impressed by the attendance on a Tuesday night as well as with the worship. We had many guests, including former parishioners, far-away parishioners, government officials, and clergy and members of surrounding congregations.
Such a landmark occasion makes one look both backward and forward. Backward to the past as a reminder of who we were founded to be and how God has blessed us in so many ways in good and hard times. From the parishes foundation until the late 1920’s St. John’s quickly became the largest Episcopal congregation west of the Allegheny mountains. From the 1930’s to the 1990’s St. John’s experienced a precipitous decline, bottoming out at an Average Sunday Attendance of less than 50 people on Sunday. In the past 9 years we have seen several spouts of growth, to our current levels, give or take 10 or so.
But as we begin our next 150 years, we must be challenged to be renewed in heart and mind in order to take up that mantle of ministry left to us by those who have gone before us.
This past year or so has been one of great malaise. It has been hard to get people motivated to go deeper and wider in their spiritual life. Many ‘regular’ attenders miss Sunday worship for minor secular reasons. Getting volunteers for ministries and other opportunities around the parish, until recently an easy task, has become much tougher. And this week we also had to postpone our FAITH ALIVE WEEKEND in February because we could not get people to volunteer to sign up to head committees in order to organize it.
Is it the general malaise of society in this economic downturn? Fears and depression over the theological state of the Episcopal Church and its possible impact on our existence? Poor discipleship?
As we move forward ,solutions to all the things above start with prayer and intercession, and then getting up and getting into action to the greater glory of God. We cannot rest on our laurels. Rather, we must build on it until the day Jesus returns!

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rector's Rambling - November 15, 2009

This Sunday, 150th years ago, must have been one of great anticipation. A century and a half ago on this weekend a group of Episcopalians worshipped at St. Paul’s, Christ Church, and the Mariner’s Church for the last time. The Senior Warden of St. Paul’s resigned his position as head of the Vestry of that original Detroit parish. Others resigned vestry positions, as well as membership in various guilds and organizations, in their current parishes.
They did this not in protest or disagreement with their parishes, but in anticipation of what was to come! On that third Sunday in November 1859 they would be worshipping in their parishes for the last time because the following week, on the 17th, they would gather out in the country, on the corner of Woodward Avenue and High Street, for the first service at the newly built St. John’s Chapel. The Bishop of Michigan was to be there to consecrate the new building, something that can only be done if it is free of encumbrances. Being no debt or mortgage on the new parish, the building would be dedicated for use to the greater glory of God at two services that day.
The former St. Paul’s Senior Warden, Henry Porter Baldwin, dreamed of founding a new parish outside of town, and nearer to his country home. He had purchased the land and had a church and chapel designed before ever pitching it to his neighbors the previous December.
Since then subscriptions were secured, the building constructed, a priest hired, and a boys choir trained for just this moment.
There must have been some sadness for those folks leaving to be a part of this new venture. But little could they imagine that within another week not only would the new parish be a ‘success’, but would be too large for the 125 seat Chapel they had built! Plans for a larger Church, seating over 1000 people had been planned for several years down the road. It now had to be constructed immediately! But that is a story for another day.

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