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, October 21, 2010

Rector's Rambling - October 24, 2010 - Homecoming

A hearty welcome to all our guests, as well as our regular visitors and parishioners on this Homecoming Sunday.
This day was conceived nine years ago in the hope that those many friends who had other home parishes, but made St. John’s their special Holy Day destination, would join us a third time each year in addition to Christmas and Easter.
Most Churches show an increase in attendance on “High Holy Days”. St. John’s is no exception! In addition to our regularly attending parishioners, St. John’s is a place where many who have family connections to the parish (present and past) come for special occasions. We also are a magnet for those whose parishes do not have the ability, or desire, to produce traditional Anglican choral music, which is especially appreciated on Feast Days. We also attract first-timers on these days, those who, although not attending anywhere regularly, find us an attractive place on these special days. And finally, we are a place that many call “home”, even though they have not yet responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to be an active weekly participant in the life of the Church.
No matter where you are on your spiritual journey where this parish is concerned, we are always happy to have guests and friends here with us, and we are blessed by your presence!
It is interesting to look back at the history of this parish. In 1926, 2500 people came to services on an “average” Sunday, and 4000 on Easter. In the 1950’s, 600 people came on an “average” Sunday, with 1500 on Easter. By the 1990’s, it got as low as 37 on an average Sunday, and only 100 at Easter.
By God’s grace, things have had a general upward trend the last 10 years. This past year we averaged 188 on Sundays, with over 400 on Easter and Christmas. That is a pretty good start. After all, we can seat 800 people at any service!
This Homecoming Sunday you will hear about our upcoming Faith Alive Weekend which will take place November 5 – 7. I hope that whether a regular member, occasional visitor, or friend, you will consider joining us on these three days to be a part of the wonderful upward springing of the parish’s growth in grace and attendance, that we may be the holy people and parish God intends us to be!

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Rector's Rambling - October 17, 2010 - 10 year musing

At the end of February I will (God willing) reach a milestone – the 10th Anniversary of my serving here at St. John’s as Rector. This upcoming occasion has caused me to muse a bit on the past while looking to the future.
My first 2-1/2 years as a priest were as the curate (assistant) at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, on what is called the Philadelphia Main Line. This was a wonderful Anglo-Catholic Episcopal parish tucked between Villanova University and Rosemont, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr Colleges.
My next position was as the Rector of a parish in a small town 25 miles south of Pittsburgh, St. Mary’s in Charleroi. At one time this town and the surrounding towns were thick with a dozen or so steel mills, but only the remnant of one was left, plus a corning glass factory, and a coal mine. There were many joys ministering in this town where nearly everyone had lived there all their lives! I spent about 4-1/2 years as Rector of St. Mary’s.
In late 2000 God began to prepare me to answer the call to come back to the Detroit area, where I had grown up. Long-time member Dave Schafer and my father were friends and co-workers, and Dave had kept me informed the about the last Rector’s pending retirement, as well as the interim priest situation at St. John’s. Finally, in October of 2000, a search committee was formed and I was contacted about interviewing for the position.
In addition to an interview with Bishop Gibbs that November day, and lunch with the search committee, we had a parish potluck with the Search Committee, Vestry, and their families. It is unusual to expose so many people to a candidate, but enjoyable none the less!
I knew by that evening that I would be called to St. John’s, and after due diligence on the part of the Vestry I was formally called to be Rector in January, arriving in February.
In hindsight, between the search committee, vestry, and their families, I met almost the entire parish at that potluck the day I interviewed! But I didn’t know that at the time. I would not find out how small a congregation St. John’s had until after I accepted the position as rector – but that is a story for another day.

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Rector's Rambling - October 10, 2010 - Faith Alive & Address Change

Last weekend we had a visit from Mr. Jerry Steege, the coordinator from Faith Alive’s offices. A retired doctor now living in Florida, Jerry has been working with Cindy Grimwade and the “Home Team” in helping to get all things coordinated for the upcoming Faith Alive weekend here at St. John’s November 5–7.
In addition to giving our Faith Alive minute at the 8:00 and 10:00 AM services, he met with various committee members to get an update, face to face, on the planning progress. He was pleased to see what a wonderful job the “Home Team” (committee members from St. John’s) are doing, and how far along we are in the planning. Thank you to all who have been busy praying and working to make this upcoming weekend a blessing for this parish.
Also last week we began our sign up process. Yours truly has been reminding folks to sign up while greeting people after the services. Others signed up in the parish hall. Within 4 hours of formally starting the sign up process, we already had close to 80 people on the list for Friday evening’s dinner and program! This is an encouraging start! Sign up will continue today in the back of the church and in the undercroft, and can also be done on-line as well. I look forward to seeing your name on the attendance list.
ADDRESS CHANGE? Some may have noticed the church address to the left now says 2326 Woodward Avenue, rather than the familiar 50 E. Fisher Freeway. In fact 2326 Woodward is the original parish mailing address, located in the former Rectory (which was torn down in 1936). By the 1880’s the mailing address became 50 E. Montcalm because the parish office was in the old parish hall building (torn down in 1971). The 50 E. Fisher Freeway address belongs to the current office building in the rear.
Our historic 2326 Woodward designation has been reclaimed for clarity. We are the oldest church on Woodward Avenue, and mapping/GPS programs more readily identify the Woodward location.
Both addresses will continue to be valid, but the 2326 Woodward Avenue address will become the primary address in print.


Rector's Rambling - October 3, 2010 - St. Michael & St. Francis

Today we are celebrating the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels. The feast day actually occurs on September 29th, but it is an important enough feast that it has an “octave” assigned to it – which means that it can be celebrated for 8 days! We are celebrating it on the Sunday within the octave.
It is an important feast day because there is a lot of misunderstanding about the ministry of angels and who they are in their created order. Keeping this feast day allows us to give thanks to God for their creation and their ministry, as well as be informed about who they are and what they do (and who they aren’t and what they don’t do) so we can dispel the myths and mis-information surrounding them.
Today, being October 3rd, it is also the Eve of the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. We will celebrate this THIS EVENING AT 4:00 PM with an Evensong in the garden, and Blessing of Pets. Be sure to come back and bring your pet to be blessed! We will also offer later a separate Franciscan Service of The Transitus.
St. Francis lived in the 13th century in Italy. The son of a middle class cloth merchant, “Frenchy” chased after military glory in hopes of elevating his and his family’s status by earning knighthood. Instead, God used him to renew the Church.
After a conversion experience in which Jesus told him to “rebuild my Church”, Francis embraced absolute poverty in order to preach the gospel without being attached to property concerns. Many others were attracted to his way of life and joined him. Three modern religious orders are the fruit of his call – The First Order Franciscans (brown robed friars living together in a community), Second Order semi-enclosed nuns (the Poor Clares), and Third Order men and women following a rule of life, but living in the world with their families.
Although the rule of life has changed over the years, the charism (“spirit”) lives on in the Franciscan vocation.
~ Additional information is available at www.FODC.net


Rector's Rambling - September 26, 2010 - Retreat


No, this is not a call to fall back to a previous military position. Rather, it is that time of the year that it seems every group/church organization has a Retreat.
The weekend retreat is pretty common in the life of the Church. It is a chance to “shake up” one’s schedule, and to spend time concentrating on spiritual matters in a directed way. This can happen at a retreat center, or a church, or even in a hotel. It can include staying overnight at a location or commuting back and forth to be present at the retreat.
This weekend sees several different gatherings of this type affecting St. John’s and her members.
Here at St. John’s we are hosting a Cursillo Weekend for men. Cursillo means “short course” on Christianity. Originated in the Roman Catholic Church in Spain, Cursillo now spans continents and denominations as an effective way to hone in on one’s vocation and God’s calling to you. The Cursillo weekend started Thursday night and the participants have been staying overnight in the building.
Several members of the congregation are away in Buffalo, New York this weekend for the yearly gathering of the Franciscan Third Order of the Divine Compassion, a group of people (lay or ordained, married or single) who are striving to live under a Rule of Life based on one developed by St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th Century. This past week the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC) also met for its yearly North American gathering of its priest members.
And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we have a weekend gathering coming up for all St. John’s members – Faith Alive (November 5–7). It will be a great time for fellowship and discernment about how God is calling us individually, and corporately as a parish, to deepen our living faith. Although we will not be staying here overnight, it will be a weekend full of great opportunities to be together. I implore you to clear your calendar for these days and plan on being present!


Rector's Rambling - September 19, 2010 - Faith Alive

Sunday School and Adult Education got off to a good start last week, and it sure was wonderful to have the full choir back as well.
In the coming weeks you will be hearing a lot about the Faith Alive weekend on November 5-7. For the past 5 weeks we have started announcements with the Faith Alive minute, given by members of the “home” team helping to plan the weekend. There has also been information in the Ministry Notes in the Parish Chronicle, and various inserts. In our newsletter, The Eagle, there are articles and a schedule of the happenings of the Faith Alive weekend.
Now is the time for the members of the parish to get on board. Sign ups for participating in the weekend are beginning. We need to know who will be coming so that we can plan in advance for meals, meeting space/location, etc. But more importantly, the sign up period will show the commitment you have to being there for your own spiritual health as well as the spiritual health of the parish.
We are asking for your participation on Friday evening, Saturday morning and afternoon, and Sunday morning. Yes, it is a lot. Yes, St. John’s is a long way from many parishioner’s homes. Yes, three days is a lot of time to be coming down here. But YOU, and ST. JOHN’S CHURCH, are worth it!
In my nearly 10 years here we have had fits and spurts of growth in grace and membership. From 45 to 190 average Sunday attendance is a good start, especially considering how many people have moved away in those nearly 10 years. But the continued and increased spiritual health of the parish is the foundation on which any future growth and health must be built.
Whether you are an every Sunday attendee, or perhaps sporadic in being here, God is calling YOU to participate November 5-7. Be sure to sign up for Faith Alive for your good, and the good of the parish as a whole.
I have never heard anyone who has done a Faith Alive weekend say they wish they hadn’t. Quite the opposite. Come and experience it yourself!


Rector's Rambling - September 12, 2010 - Christian Education

Today we get back into the swing of the education program at St. John’s.
A few years ago there was a public service announcement that ended with the tag-line, “never stop learning”. This is certainly true when it comes to our life of faith!
Most of us know that Sunday School is an important element of a parish church. All children in the parish should be participating in Sunday School! We certainly would be shocked if a parent decided not to have their child educated by not sending them to school, or arranging to school them at home. And yet, some in the body of Christ, who faithfully do the secular requirements of education, do not have the same vigilance to have their children educated in the things that have eternal consequences. In Sunday School, the children not only learn the facts of the scriptures, but also learn to love them, because they point us to Jesus. As they grow, they need this foundation of faith to fight against the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. What are we saying to our children when we make a great effort to get them to school Monday through Friday, but Sunday School (or, God forbid, Sunday Worship) can be put aside for other matters? Children absorb their parents’/grandparents’/guardians’ priorities.
What is true for the children in Sunday School is also true for adults. We also need to continue to learn more and more about our Lord and His Church. Reading and studying the Scriptures at home is a great start! Being involved in Adult Education at St. John’s is another great place to be! The Alpha Course is yet another great opportunity, as are other programs put on in this parish. And in the coming months, as a result of the Faith Alive Weekend, we hope to branch out into small group ministry where people can gather together during the week to study the Word of God together.
Children and adults alike are called to keep learning! Let us do so to His greater honor and glory!


Rector's Rambling - September 5, 2010 - Labor Day

Come Labor on! Who dare stand idle, on the harvest plain; while all around us wave the golden grain? And to each servant does the Master say, “Go work today.” ~ Hymn 576

This weekend Summer makes its last “hurrah” as we celebrate the Labor Day weekend. Here in the Metro Detroit Area the weekend is celebrated with great festivities: Arts, Beats, and Eats in Royal Oak, and the Jazz Festival here in Detroit. There are plenty of things to do this weekend as we bring summer to an unofficial close. On Tuesday school begins and society gets back into its fall/winter/spring routine.
Of course, all of the above activities, as fun as they may be, have nothing to do with the holiday itself. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” (www.DoL.gov) And, in fact, many labor unions will hold rallies this weekend to celebrate the American worker, the unions themselves, and their various causes. This grand old stone edifice on the corner of Woodward and Fisher Freeway has seen many a labor parade and rally pass by its doors.
Labor unions have evolved over the years, and our economy has certainly changed in the last 125 years! Membership in unions has declined as employment in manufacturing and other “labor intensive” industries have automated or moved away.
As we celebrate Labor Day this year, let us remember in our prayers that our common good is dependent upon each other. The creation and sustaining of gainful employment is a recognition of each other’s basic humanity and dignity. As the Department of Labor says, “The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership – the American worker.”
Reprinted from The Chronicle, 9-2-2007


Rector's Rambling - August 29, 2010 - Morning Prayer w/ Communion

It’s the fifth Sunday of the month and that means that once again we have the opportunity to pray Morning Prayer with Holy Communion, as we do every 2nd and 5th Sunday.
In the teaching notes there is a bit of the background on why we do this combined service on these two Sundays.
In some parishes it was the tradition to alternate Holy Communion and Morning Prayer Sundays. This was a derivation from the more ancient practice of Holy Communion every time the Body of Christ (the Church) gathered.
In Anglicanism (the Episcopal Church is the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion) the prayer book understanding was that every parish would have Morning Prayer, Litany AND Holy Communion every Sunday (everyone, all together, for all three services) and then would return on Sunday evening for Evening Prayer.
As time went on, when parishes were without their own priest, only Morning Prayer, Litany, and “Ante-Communion” would be prayed, led by a lay reader. The “ante-Communion” is the part of the Communion service, readings, and prayers before the actual consecration prayer.
Over time parishes have pared down on the length and number of services. This morning’s combination is a great way to keep the Morning Prayer service, using it as the ante-communion, as well as keeping the more ancient practice of Holy Communion every week.
One reason I like Morning Prayer on Sunday is because YOU now know how to pray it! The Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer were written for EVERYONE to be able to pray Morning and Evening Prayer, using the Book of Common Prayer and a Bible, in their home every day of the week. The clergy are expected to do so, and many others in the parish pray it daily as well (I know because when I make a mistake on the cycle of readings on page 3 they call to ask for the correction).
If you don’t have a copy of the Prayer Book we have free copies in the parish library. Add a bible and you have all you need to pray it daily.


Rector's Rambling - August 22, 2010 - Confessing

I recently had a revelation about something concerning the Church and our Faith, and I wanted to take a moment to share it with you here.
In a discussion with someone about salvation, the talk also turned to the idea of ‘confession’. It was in this discussion that I had this revelation.
Salvation, of course, is about Jesus Christ. We believe it is by Grace, through Faith in Jesus Christ, that we are saved. He has accomplished the work of our salvation on the Cross and it is by His merits that we are saved.
This person I was speaking with was in a spot where he wanted to know what he had to do to be saved. Immediately I responded, as did the Apostle Paul to his jailers, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.” (Acts 16:31).
“Believe in what?” he replied, to which I answered, “that He is the Son of God, that He loves you, and forgives your sin”. It was at this moment that I had the revelation.
There are two general uses of the word “confession” in the Church. The most common one today is “confession of sin”. In our liturgies from the Book of Common Prayer there is a General Confession. Here we acknowledge our sin, and general sinfulness, before God and receive an assurance of our forgiveness. There is also the sacrament of auricular confession, where you confess your sins to God through the ministry of the priest and receive absolution as well.
The more ancient, and still current definition of the word “confession” is to make a statement of belief. St. Augustine wrote a famous book call The Confession. It is not about the sacrament, but an autobiography of his coming to belief in Jesus Christ as Lord.
For the first time I realized that both definitions are related concerning salvation. We confess that we believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we confess our sins because we know that since He is Lord He can, and has, forgiven our sins.
This person was greatly assured by both definitions. He both believed that Jesus was Lord, and that he was forgiven by Him.
May we too believe that Jesus is Lord, and confess Him as such, AND confess our sins that we may receive that forgiveness from Him.


Rector's Rambling - August 15, 2010 - St. Mary the Virgin

August 15th is a major feast day in the life of the Church. Today we are commemorating that feast with the second Collect of the Day.
Known in Anglicanism as The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, August 15th is a day commemorated in Anglicanism, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and some Lutheran bodies, to honor Jesus’ mother.
For the Roman Catholics this day is known as The Feast of the Assumption. Tradition says that Mary, after her death, was bodily taken into heaven to be with her son. This is what the Church believes will happen to ALL OF US at the end of time, known as the General Resurrection. At that time, all will rise from the dead with their resurrection bodies. The Roman teaching is that Mary received this in anticipation of the General Resurrection since it is from her body that the Son of God Incarnate took his flesh. Although not explicitly contained in scripture, it is attested to by multiple early writers and by the lack of any bodily relics of Mary (something for which we have for all the apostles and many biblical characters).
For the Orthodox this day is known as The Feast of the Dormition, or the falling asleep of the Theotokos (God-bearer).
For Anglicans and Lutherans it is a recognition of the importance of Mary in the story of our salvation. She gives her “fiat” at the Angel Gabriel’s announcement of her being chosen to be pregnant with the second person of the Trinity (Luke 1:38). She raises Jesus to be a good Jew in accordance with the original covenant. She is complicit in his first public miracle at Cana, interceding for her son, and instructing the servants to “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:3–5). She is faithful and present at His public ministry, His Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension, and the Coming of the Holy Ghost.
When Mary visits her kinswoman Elizabeth, she deflects Elizabeth’s praises, pointing instead to Our Lord. “My soul doth magnify the Lord…” and a recognition that “from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:45–56).
We call Mary blessed for Jesus’ sake.

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Rector's Rambling - August 8, 2010 - Weekday Communion

Other than Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, I would suspect that less than 15 percent of the parish has ever attended a weekday celebration of The Holy Communion at St. John’s. This is probably an above average number for a parish of our size, especially since the congregation is spread from Algonac to Ann Arbor and beyond.
I wish that more people would make this a part of their spiritual discipline (attendance increases during Lent when extra discipline is understood). I know for me, the beginning of my new life in Christ and the decision to actively participate in the Christian Faith began with my stumbling upon a weekday celebration of Evening Prayer and Mass, and was fortified the following Lent by beginning the discipline of daily weekday Mass attendance. Living in Philadelphia, I had a schedule of at least 5 other parishes offering Holy Communion on any particular day, at various times, and would be sure that no matter what my schedule was I would get to one of those services. We don’t have the preponderance of Episcopal churches in the Detroit Area that Philadelphia does, nor the options of various weekday Mass times, but there are Masses available here at St. John’s and at some other parishes. We have many “regulars” at our weekday services; not only parishioners, but also people who live and work in the area around the church, and even have visitors from out of town.
Having said all that, I would like to point out not only that we have Holy Communion Tuesday through Thursday at 12:15 PM at St. John’s, but on special holy days in the evening as well.
You may pray Morning and Evening Prayer at home, but you need a priest and congregation to receive the Blessed Sacrament. And whether two or 20 people are here, we are lifting up the entire parish in prayer. Please join us!


Rector's Rambling - August 1, 2010 - More Founders Day

What great fun we had last Sunday with our Founder’s Day celebration. It will certainly be an on-going annual event!
As I mused about the day before its approach, and have thought about it since. I continue to be struck by how much some things have changed about St. John’s in the past 151 years, and yet how much really is the same.
Ninety-five percent of the wording of the service was the same, even if it was a bit tricky to read whether a letter was an “f” or an “s” at times. At the 8:00 AM service I drew a complete blank while trying to interpret a word during the 10 commandments – and I know them off by heart!
The re-ordering of parts of the service was also interesting. Putting the prayer of humble access at the beginning of the Communion Canon seems very odd to me, but then when it was changed to where it is in the1928 Prayer Book it must have seemed strange to them too! And although the full text of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and the Exhortations are found in the 1928 Prayer Book, they are seldom if ever used. Yet they contain GREAT theology about what we are doing in Church each Sunday and why it is so vitally important that we receive Communion regularly.
That same good, biblically sound theology as promulgated by the Anglican prayer book tradition continues to be in full effect here at St. John’s. What was true about Jesus and His Church in the 1860’s continues to be true today. The Word of God is the Word of God.
Unfortunately, our denomination continues to move further from her moorings. Every few weeks I read something else happening in our denomination and just shake my head that so many have moved so far from the “Faith once delivered to the Saints”.
Pray, pray, pray for the Episcopal Church, for our world-wide Anglican Communion, and for all of us caught in the middle between those standing firm and those moving away.


Rector's Rambling - July 25, 2010 - Founders Day

Welcome to all our visitors and friends who are with us today for our Founders’ Day! This is the second of what we hope will continue to be an annual event in July. It is a good way to break up the summer routine and to celebrate the “goodly heritage” that we have here at St. John’s Church in Detroit.
It is hard to imagine, especially given all the busyness of the neighborhood today with a Detroit Tiger baseball game, that when this parish was founded, and the church and chapel built, this area was primarily farmlands and orchards. This was considered “out of town” by those living closer to Jefferson (which was most of the population). But Henry Porter Baldwin had a vision that Detroit would grow to the north (he had already built a house out here) and that it would be a great location to plant a parish church!
Within a few years of the founding of this parish it became the largest Episcopal congregation west of the Allegheny mountains, with over 2500 people attending seven Sunday services each week. Communion was celebrated daily as well – very rarely done back then, but a mark of this parish’s early Oxford Movement/High Church moorings.
St. John’s prominence and leadership continued for its first 70 years. Five of the initial 10 Rectors were elected bishop, its first Rector being appointed successor to an Episcopal Church saint, Bishop Jackson Kemper of the High Church diocese of Wisconsin.
The next 70 years of the parish’s life were ones of decline, mirroring the changes in the neighborhood, from posh-residential to commercial, and eventually to dereliction. During this period we changed to a more Low Church leadership.
We are now in the midst of our third 70 year cycle. The churchmanship has been restored, the neighborhood is reviving, and St. John’s has seen attendance increase from about 50 on Sunday in 2000 to an average of 196 last year. It is a good start, yet we still have empty seats to fill.
What hasn’t changed in the past 151 years is the faith of this parish: biblically and solidly Anglican through and through. May God grant us continued faithfulness.