Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 50 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 impending hockey arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rector's Rambling - February 27, 2011

Ten years ago this week I arrived as the Rector of St. John’s Church here in Detroit. As I’ve mentioned over the last few weeks, it has been my great privilege and a great grace to baptize 97 adults and children, present 79 people for confirmation or reception, solemnize 52 marriages, and officiate at the burial rites for 52 people.
For those who have not heard the story of my being called, I will share it here. I was the Rector of a parish in a small town 25 miles south of Pittsburgh. Having felt that perhaps I was finished there, God provided, through the recommendation of David and Sharon Schafer, the opportunity to apply for the position of rector at St. John’s. They were long-time friends of my family and Dave worked with my father.
Fr. Richard Kim had retired in 1997 and the parish had been without a rector since then. The Diocese, under a previous administration, was not keen on the election of a new traditional 1928 Prayer Book priest, and worked to prolong the search process. But the combination of the institution of a new Bishop and staff, and the determined work of the vestry and search committee, accelerated the process so that I was able to interview the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2000.
Generally, a candidate for rector only meets the search committee members, but a part of my interview included a dinner with the committee, vestry, and spouses and families!
After accepting the call in January, during a phone call with Fr. Bedford (who was holding down the fort), I discovered that during the interview process I had never asked what Sunday attendance was, or to see the budget. God had put blinders on me to prevent me from asking those two questions. Little did I know that at that dinner in November I had meet just about everyone in the parish, and that the average Sunday attendance was less than 50! I think I might have hesitated if I had known that during the interview process. God did a good job of focusing me on coming here!
I thank God every day for the privilege of being the rector at St. John’s. Hard to imagine it has been 10 years! Tempus fugit – time flies! And I pray that God will allow us to glorify Him and to minister to His people here for many more years to come.

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Rector's Rambling - February 20, 2011

Last week I wrote about baptisms, and today I am musing upon the Sacrament of Matrimony. St. John’s is a popular place to have a wedding! The beautiful building, ideal downtown location, and classic service attracts people and gives them a desire to be married here. But sometimes it is these very externals which, having attracted them, prevent them, perhaps, from understanding the theological importance of the sacrament.
We get upwards of 25 calls a year from people interested in being married at St. John’s. A great number just want to “rent the church” for a ceremony, and end their inquiry as soon as we let them know we expect them to become members and attend for at least six months before their wedding service. But a fair number of people do come, and put in this minimal amount of effort.
In my 10 years, of the 52 marriages I have performed, 16 couples now live out of state or over an hour away from St. John’s. Seven couples come regularly and three occasionally. Four couples have actively transferred to another parish. Five couples (that I know of) have divorced (none of whom continued to attend St. John’s after their wedding).
That leaves 17 more couples who attended here, were married here, and have stopped attending after their wedding (many never returned after the wedding ceremony). Despite phone calls, e-mails, and notes, they have made a decision to stay away. One of the few who did bother to respond to my contacts was honest enough to let me know they felt they had “put in their time” but didn’t feel they needed to go to Church anymore.
The ministry of performing weddings can be a great blessing, and sometimes a frustration as well, for me and the many volunteers who help with this ministry. But I thank God for the opportunity to do them, and pray that the Lord will move hearts and minds to keep Him at the center of these couples married lives and active in His Church.

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Rector's Rambling - February 13, 2011

Last week I mused upon the importance of these sacramental milestones. Today, I want to look at one of them in particular – baptism.
Baptism is, of course, the great “initiation” rite of the Church. In the waters of baptism we are made “children of God, and heirs of the Kingdom” and are “regenerate and born anew of water and the Holy Spirit”. (Baptismal Liturgy, BCP p. 273 – 282). We become both spiritually and physically members of The Body of Christ: The Church.
One great restoration in the worship of the Church is to restore the baptismal liturgy to Sunday worship, so the entire community can be of support, and encouraged by the new Christian. Of the 97 baptisms in my time here, 21 have been adults and the rest children (mostly infants). Many of the adult baptisms have been in connection with people coming to St. John’s to get married or to attend the Alpha Course (or both). In 2006 we baptized 11 people from six families at one service.
Fourteen of those baptisms have been of people who live out of state but came to be baptized at St. John’s because their extended families are here, or were here for generations (i.e. this is the family church). We have had quite a few baptisms of children who were of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th generations to be baptized at St. John’s.
But being a downtown parish, St. John’s has a transient membership. Many people move to the area, find St. John’s, and move away after a few years. Unfortunately, some who were baptized just don’t come to Church here, or anywhere anymore (see Matthew 13:18–23). At a quick glance, 20 of the 97 attend regularly, another 30 attend occasionally, and 47 either never attend here anymore, or were from out of state.

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Rector's Rambling - February 6, 2011

Ten years ago this month I arrived as the Rector of St. John’s Church here in Detroit. It was the last Sunday (that year, also the last Sunday in Epiphany). Over the course of the next few weeks please allow me the indulgence of some backward looking and reminiscence.
As I mentioned in my Rector’s Report to the Annual Parish Meeting last week, it has been my great privilege and a great grace to baptize 97 adults and children, present 79 people for confirmation or reception, solemnize 51 marriages (52 as of yesterday), and officiate at the burial rites for 52 people.
These sacramental actions become important benchmarks for the parish. Ninety-seven seems like a large number, but that is only 97 of 7294 baptisms in the 152 years this parish has been in existence! The 52 marriages are out of a total of 3407, and the 52 burials of 5428.
Once a sacramental act such as baptism or confirmation occurs, it is recorded in the parish register, which over the years has come to span multiple volumes. The baptism book currently in use only goes back to 1981 (first entry – Kevin Thomas, grandson of then Rector Fr. Thomas Frisby). The current marriage register goes back to March 17, 1956 (Robert and Marie Herd). And the current burial register goes back to July 21, 1886 (John Johnson) and even records the burial of our founder, Henry Porter Baldwin (died 12/31/1892, buried 1/3/1893).
When an occasion arises that we have to open the books to record an event, I inevitably spend some time glancing backwards. Occasionally we do a wedding and the bride’s or groom’s parents’ wedding is recorded in there as well. Or, for a baptism, I will recognize the name of someone I see listed as a godparent, or a current parishioner. And when going through the burial register I not only recognize current names, but the names of those memorialized on plaques, pews, or altarware.
Thanks be to God for what he is doing here in our time, and for those who have gone before.

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