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

Thursday, October 21, 2010

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.