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, January 27, 2011

Rector's Report to the Annual Parish Meeting 2011

It is hard for me to fathom the reality that I am writing my TENTH Rector’s Report to the Annual Parish Meeting of St. John’s Church. In the past 10 years I have had the great grace to baptize 97 adults and children, present 79 people for confirmation or reception, solemnize 51 marriages, and officiate at the burial rites for 52 people.

Since 2001 St. John’s has hosted Diocesan Convention, film and television location shoots, been the a part of the “FAN ZONE” for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, within the security perimeter of the Super Bowl (and was the feeding center for the police department that weekend), and the location for countless concerts, meetings, and even a summer snowboarding exhibition. We have been the parking spot for 816 Tiger games, 80 Lions games, and numerous shows at the Fox and State (Filmore) theatres. One year we nearly filled a semi-truck with food donations for Gleaners. We have sold pancakes, hot chocolate, and donuts for the Thanksgiving Day parades, and even witnessed a Stanley Cup Parade pass our front door.

Also in those 10 years, in addition to ongoing regular maintenance and repair to the building we did a $380,000 stone and roof repair project, a $120,000 window, sign, and awning project, and a $40,000 boiler replacement. The middle project caused us to be sued by the American Atheists for our matching grants (we won).

Most importantly, between 2500 and 3000 of celebrations of the Holy Communion have been held at our altars on Sundays and weekdays, Morning and Evening Prayer prayed in community almost daily, and scores of other liturgical celebrations and devotions have been offered to the Greater Glory of God and the edification of His people. Guilds, Societies, Ministries and Organizations have been formed and have also added to the many opportunities for greater holiness and service. Average Sunday attendance bottomed out a few years before I arrived at 37 people. This past year it has been 187 (highest in my years was in 2006 with and ASA of 203).

As I like to say, this is a good START. I consider it a great privilege to be the Rector of St. John’s. God has blessed us with a goodly heritage and a wonderful present day as well. And I am firmly convinced that He also has in store for us a wonderful future.

Much of our spiritual focus this year was in planning and preparing for our wonderfully blessed FAITH ALIVE weekend this past fall, and I am looking forward to the expansion of home-based and weekday study, bible, and fellowship groups. As expected, I think we appreciated hearing about one another’s spiritual journeys and getting to know each other outside of our usual Sunday gathering time. In the coming weeks and months look for more opportunities to continue that spirit of fellowship, prayer, and study in various settings.

This past year has been one of transition. We have a new Office Manager, Harriett Mottley, who took over office operations with the retirement of Paul MacDonald. Organ Scholar Richard Newman finished his term and we welcomed Aaron Tan as his successor. David Schafer retired as Treasurer and Gordon Didier has assumed that position. And the vestry has continued to respond to the economic crisis the vestry by being diligent in making sure we meet our current obligations and look to the long-term financial health of the parish. At one time (in the time I have been here) we depended upon over $100,000 of growth and income from the endowment to meet our expenses. It has generally ranged from $57,000 to $83,000 a year. In 2009, as the nation-wide financial crisis took hold and the value of the endowment declined, we were able to make reductions and rely upon your sacrificial giving so as to only use $43,000 in growth and income. This past year we were able to decrease that amount even further, to only $33,000. This has been accomplished with good financial stewardship, your generosity, and we believe we have done so without compromising our ability to do the ministry we have been called to do.

10 years ago as the vestry looked at our expenses and income and was concerned about how we are going to meet our obligations, I told them, “There is no problem we have financially that can’t be solved by having 100 more members.” But I also warned them, “and then we will have new, different financial problems to deal with.” This has proven prophetic as I have repeated it, year after year, to each successive vestry. But it is a good problem to have from year to year – new members and growth in attendance and income.

So as I celebrate my 10th anniversary I would appreciate it if the parish would continue to cause us the problems by having “100 more members”. In fact, double our trouble with 200 more! The formula hasn’t changed in 10 years for how we will grow. As I wrote in my first Rector’s Report to the Annual Parish Meeting in January of 2002

...the success of any growth will be dependent on our prayerful cooperation with the Holy Spirit, and our willingness to invite people to join us. We will continue to advertise, and do other interesting things to get St. John’s recognized in the Detroit Metro Area, but most real growth comes through an anointed human connection. That anointed connection comes through our faithfulness to the doctrines of the Church and our willingness to share it! Before long, if we are faithful, prayerful, and diligent in sharing, we will be a big parish with a whole new set of big parish problems. I look forward to it, God willing!

Good things just don’t change. Be faithful, repent, pray, receive the sacraments, love, forgive, share the good news of God’s love, invite your friends and neighbors to Church with you. It is all Grace!

Thank God for 10 years of ministry here - may He grant me many more years to come.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rector's Rambling - January 23, 2011

It is wonderful to be back home here at St. John’s, even if the weather is not the most accommodating for a return from Florida! Thankfully my blood did not thin out too much during our two weeks away. While there, Sam and I completed a half marathon at Disney, and Jennifer the full marathon the next day. It was something for which we all trained since the summer, and are glad to have accomplished it and have behind us.
Now we hit the ground running. New Year’s resolutions have come, and many already gone. One which has eternal consequences is most important, and that is to be in Church every Sunday, assuming you are not hindered by travel or illness (and when traveling you can, and should, worship on Sunday as well).
In addition to being present at worship and participating in it, I would also hope the people of St. John’s will become involved in the life of the parish. This “Life” includes the spiritual, such as the Daughters of the King, Brotherhood of St. Andrew, Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, Sunday Christian Education, home Bible study and prayer groups, weekday worship, and the like.
There is also a service component to this “Life” such as volunteering at Coffee Hour, participating with the St. Catherine’s Guild chapter of the ECW or the Armitage Men’s Club, or assisting with work/clean-up/planting days, and various outreach ministries.
And let us not forget the social aspect of this “Life”, which overlaps all of the activities and groups above, as well as the new social opportunities being planned for parishioners to get to know each other and enjoy each others’ company.
Let us all go deeper into the “Life” of the parish as we grow in the “Life” that Jesus Christ desires for us. After all, He came that we may have life, and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

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Rector's Rambling - January 2, 2011

Happy 2011! On January 1st a special Feast Day was commemorated. Not “New Year’s Day” (the Church New Year started on the first Sunday in Advent back on November 29th), but the Feast of the Circumcision.
Jesus, born into a family of the original covenant with the people of the Hebrews, was circumcised as the outward sign of his membership in that covenant between God and His chosen people.
There are several theologically important things happening at this event on Jesus’ eight day of life:
1) Jesus, as the fulfillment of the promise of God to send a Messiah as the fulfillment of the law, keeps the law by being circumcised.
2) This covenant, as all ancient covenants (agreements between two parties), was sealed in blood. An agreement between two parties involved a shedding of blood of some sort as a sign of the importance and long term effect of it. The shedding of this first blood through circumcision was also a permanent reminder of that membership in that covenant as God’s chosen people. More importantly it is a foreshadowing of how the new covenant would be sealed – by the shedding of Jesus’ own blood on the hard wood of the cross.
3) On this eight day another very important thing happens in the life of the Jewish male – he officially receives his name! And of course, the Name of Jesus is not only the name given by the Angel to Mary when she conceived Him by the Holy Ghost (Matthew 1:21), but the Name of Jesus is the only name under heaven by which we are saved! (Acts 4:12).
So, while many were recovering from the celebration of the new secular calendar year, we have started this year off with a wonderful remembrance of our Salvation through Jesus Christ.
Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!
~ 1 Corinthians 15:57

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Rector's Rambling - December 25/26, 2010

A hearty welcome to all those joining us for worship at St. John’s! I wish you a very Merry Christmas and the blessings of peace on these Holy Days.
In St. John’s 152 years we have been a church of “destination”, with people coming from far and wide to worship in this beautiful building with its sublime music, traditional Anglican liturgy, and wonderful people.
Christmas Eve, Day, and the Sunday following are wonderful days to be at St. John’s. Not only are they wonderful days to worship the Lord, but here at St. John’s we delve deeply into the fullness of the timeless Anglican expression of the faith once delivered to the Saints.
In addition to our glorious worship, there are many wonderful things happening at St. John’s. We recently had our FAITH ALIVE weekend (November 5th – 7th) where we had a chance to be refreshed in the faith and in each other’s journey of faith, and have rededicated ourselves to the ministry God has set in place for us. In addition to our regular Sunday and weekday worship schedule, we have a bevy of organizations to deepen our faith and fellowship, and many new groups forming even now. It is a very exciting time to become regularly involved at St. John’s!
It has been a long time since St. John’s averaged a high of over 2000 people on Sunday. But it has also been over 10 years since we hit a low of 37! God has been at work in rebuilding St. John’s, and we believe that not only is He not finished, but there are amazing things ahead for this parish and its parishioners – both those here now and for those not YET members of it.
If you are visiting today we invite you to consider joining in on all the wonderful things God has in store for this parish! Become a “regular” by worshipping with us on Sundays and by getting involved in the ministries and activities of the parish and the neighborhood.
You are most welcome to be a part of all the wonderful things God is doing here: Holy Days, Sundays, and every day of the week!

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Rector's Rambling - December 12, 2010

Last Sunday, after the service, a parishioner asked, “Father, I don't think I received a pledge card in the mail this year.” He was right, he had not. And he was the first person to notice, or at least to point it out to me.
In the past nine years we have mailed out stewardship letters, with pledge cards, to all the parishioners on our mailing list (about 250 of the addresses on our master mailing list). This was followed up by a letter with another copy of the pledge card to all those who had contributed financially to the parish in the past year (about 120 addresses or so). Finally, a third letter and card were sent to those from that second list who had not sent back a pledge card.
The result of all those letters, cards, and postage, has been nearly identical each year. We receive signed pledge cards for about 1/3 of what we actually receive each year in pledge income. We may receive $80,000 in promised pledges and then receive $250,000 in pledge income.
At budget time, the treasurer, wardens, and rector make a budget to present to the vestry for approval, to then be presented at the parish meeting in January. Those numbers are based not on pledge cards received, but an estimate based on expected expenses, and hoped-for income based on years past and anticipated events in the year to come.
Overall, the people of St. John’s are generous in support of the parish. The high average of total gifts is boosted by a few people who give very large, sacrificial gifts each week/month. Others are making smaller, yet equally sacrificial gifts as their tithe (biblical 10% offering).
But many are somewhere in the middle, needing to evaluate their giving per week. Is it truly an “offering” to the Lord of our first fruits, in thanksgiving for the blessings He has bestowed upon us, or not?
Rather than a quick and unfruitful Fall campaign (unfruitful in percentage of returned cards), instead we will in the coming year concentrate on how important Stewardship is all throughout the year!
All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee. 1 Chronicles xxix. 14.

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Rector's Rambling - December 5, 2010

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

This Collect is to be repeated every day, after the other Collects in Advent, until Christmas Day.

The “Collects” are those collected prayers of the Church, gathered and ordered over the centuries, that express the intentions of the people to God. Some Collects, such as the Collect for Purity said at the beginning of every Communion Service (“Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known…”) are very ancient. The Collects appointed for each Sunday of the year in the propers (the appointed prayers and readings for Sundays and Holy Days) in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer are English translations of those of the ancient Western Liturgies codified in the old Latin Mass. Other newer Collects are added and supplemented as necessary. The Collects appointed for the day set the theme or tone for the worship of that day.
Some Collects not only set the tone for the day, but for an “octave” – that day and the seven days following for major Feasts such as All Saints’ Day. Other collects set the tone for an entire season.
The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent is one of those “All Season” Collects. It is intended to be said daily between that first Sunday and until Christmas (the next season). At Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Communion services, this Collect is said after the collect that might be appointed for that day. It is a daily reminder that, for the Season of Advent, we are to put away darkness (sin) and put on the armor of light (God’s righteousness), in preparation for the upcoming celebration of his Nativity (Christmas), and we are to do this in anticipation of his return in glorious majesty to judge the quick (the living) and the dead.
Even if you do not pray Morning and/or Evening Prayer every day from the prayer book (you can and are encouraged to do so – see this week’s teaching notes), you may still recite this Collect every day in your own personal moments of prayer.

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