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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Rector's Rambling - Homecoming Sunday 2012

This special day at St. John’s was instituted in my first year, 2001, as an opportunity for the many people who see St. John’s as a second home, together with those who consider this their regular parish home, to come together on an occasion other than Christmas and Easter.  We have lots of friends of the parish who are involved in worship in other parishes, but join us for these special occasions and other Sundays or Feast days throughout the year.  Some are former members moved away and returning to see old friends.  Others come wanting a dose of traditional 1928 Prayer Book worship and to experience our world-class Anglican musical heritage.  Some visit regularly because they like the people here, and others because it is a convenient place to worship prior to events downtown later in the day (Lions, Tigers, Fox Theatre, DSO, etc.).  Whatever the reason, we are glad to have people worship with us.  And of course, a reminder that all the “regular visitors” are most welcome to become “regular parishioners” as well!
St. John’s is a unique place in the Diocese of Michigan.  The traditional faith of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the 1940 Hymnal and professional choir, the preaching, a beautiful historic building, and amazing parishioners coming from as far away as Algonac, Ann Arbor, and South Lyon combine to make it like no other.  As we approach the 154th anniversary of St. John’s’ founding she continues to face challenges, as do so many other parishes.  Being a history buff I have read through our 50th, 80th, and 100th anniversary books, and volumes of Vestry minutes and Weekly Chronicles going back over 100 years.  Again and again throughout our history the cry goes up: can this obstacle or that obstacle be overcome?  But by God’s grace, and the joyful and dedicated devotion of the people of St. John’s, provision has been made and God glorified.  I thank God for your part in God’s provision!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Brand and Package: a Stewardship Discussion

It may seem strange to see marketing terms used when talking about Stewardship in the Church, but they can actually be useful when discussing who you are as a parish, and how you present yourself to the world and potential members.   
St. John’s is a unique place.  In Metro Detroit there is no other church, Episcopal or otherwise, that is like St. John’s.  There are certainly parishes in other major cities much like St. John’s, with similar attributes.  But in our area there is no other place with this package.
Individuals are generally drawn to one or more aspect of this package, but all play a part in defining and strengthening the brand.  To diminish or change a portion of what we do here is the endanger damaging the brand, and its attraction to the whole.  For example, when Coca-Cola changed the recipe for is successful product, they damaged its brand for several years.  This is not to say that we can’t be looking to make improvements.  All must be done with an eye to the greater whole of who we are and what we do.
            What are some of the portions of our brand that make up the package here at St. John’s?
1)      Traditional Anglican Faith – No deviations theologically to the faith as the Anglican Communion has received it from the witness of Scripture, and the traditions and ministry received from the Apostles.
2)      Traditional Worship/Liturgy – Based on that traditional faith as codified in the Book of Common Prayer from 1549 to 1928.  The form for ceremonial was restored in the Anglican Communion by those involved in the Oxford Movement of the mid - 19th century, of which St. John’s was an early proponent.
3)      World Class Music – St. Augustine said that “He who sings prays twice”.   Music has been a vital aspect of the worship in the Anglican Communion, and especially so here at St. John’s.  Our English choral tradition lifts the heart, promotes right belief, complements our Prayer Book worship, and edifies the faithful in ways that are deeper than words can express.
4)    Biblically sound and inspiring preaching and teaching – The clergy strive to make the Word of God relevant and challenging so that the faithful can be both comforted in His Holy Word, and challenged to grow in greater holiness.
5)      Remarkable Building – For over 150 years these grand buildings have stood on this corner of Woodward Ave as a witness to the strength of the Gospel, and its architecture inspires one to worship God Almighty in the beauty of holiness.  In addition to aiding in worship, our facilities are used for education, social gatherings, and they host a variety of parish ministries and community groups. 
6)      Our downtown urban location – Although some think is a disadvantage, we embrace being centrally located among the sport stadiums and theatres, near major highways, and easily accessible for those who travel from as far away as Ann Arbor, Algonac, and South Lyon on a regular basis.  The neighborhood also continues to see new and renovated housing and loft apartments which attract people to move into the neighborhood surrounding St. John’s
7)     Warm, welcoming, and encouraging fellowship – Many people have said that as much as they like a combination of the first 6 items listed, it is this seventh one that brings it all together and keeps them coming back to St. John’s.   At Coffee Hour or Potluck luncheon after worship on Sunday, at various Social Fellowship Outings, or in one another’s homes, we come to know one another and care for each other.  This strengthens our bonds to each other, and to the parish, through the common denominator of our faith in Jesus Christ.

What are the things you like best about St. John’s?  Two, three or four of the items may jump out at you as your favorites.  Another one or two you may find you don’t take advantage of, or perhaps you are not too interested in.  And there may even be an item or two that doesn’t strike your fancy at all.   If you put together even a small group of parishioners I am sure you will find all parts of the package covered in a ‘favorites’ column. 
So what does this have to do with Stewardship?  With the exception of numbers 6 & 7 (neighborhood and fellowship), all of these items are covered by the parish budget.  It is the responsibility of the Vestry to allocate funding for these various items so that they are supported, encouraged, and kept in good repair to the Greater Glory of God and proper packaging of the brand. 
The substantial part of the funding comes from YOUR PLEDGE AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT of St. John’s Church.  What is St. John’s worth to you?  Are you willing to support her? 

As we spend time in October discussing Stewardship, know that the Vestry works hard to ensure that what we are doing today is to the greater glory of God now AND will also be here, God willing, in future years and decades.  Your generous support of this ministry not only ensures we will be here on Sunday and available during the week, but also for future generations, that they may be led into all truth and to know Him through the ministries and worship that we hold so dear.

Rector's Rambling - October 14, 2012 - Stewardship Funding

As we continue contemplating Stewardship at St. John’s, a question arises, “what sources of income fund the budget at St. John’s?”
We have a contract with Olympia Holdings which operates our parking lot for events such as the Tigers and Lions games, the Fox Theatre shows, and other downtown events.  This accounts for a little over 27.5% of budgeted income.  Rental of the building, dedicated gifts, fundraising, and monies donated for outside use constitute about 9% of income.  Use of the endowment accounts for about 10% of the budget. 
The majority of the income for the parish comes from YOU, the good people of St. John’s.   For 2012 we have $240,000 budgeted for Pledge and Plate, and $25,000 for special appeal gifts.  For your giving we are grateful.
We are certainly blessed to have the parking income, which fluctuates from year to year based on what is scheduled or comes to the area, such as playoff games.  And we have come to a point of necessity that we have to let the endowment rebuild by not taking any income or principle from it for the coming year or more.  The biblical principle of allowing a field to sit fallow in order to be replenished (Exodus 23:11) is the principle applied here.
Two of the ways that we need to look to increase income in the coming year(s) include fundraising and giving.  Fundraising would be targeted at those outside of the parish.  A ride carnival is being discussed.  We could use more ideas and volunteers to lead the efforts.
But increases in giving, from those already in the parish (increasing toward the biblical principle of a tithe), and adding new members who will contribute to the income of the parish, are both going to be necessary for the financial health of the parish for the coming years. 

Teaching note - October 14, 2012 - Tithing

When discussing Stewardship the word “Tithe” comes up frequently.   What is a Tithe, and how does it apply to your spiritual life?

The Tithe is an offering to God of the FIRST 10% of your incoming.  In the Old Testament God requires this, saying the first 10% of your fields, flocks or vineyards are to be given as an offering to the Lord.  (Leviticus 27:30)  It is a sign and symbol of gratitude that the Lord has provided for you.  One of the offertory sentences for the Holy Communion Service sums this up saying, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14).  With the offering we show gratitude because it is 100% God’s and He has blessed us with the provision of it.  It is also a sign that we trust that God will continue to provide for us in the future as well. (Malachi 3:10).

In the New Testament Jesus mentions the tithe in reference to those who are doing it for appearances or self-righteousness, not with a joyful heart.  Rather than saying the Pharisees are wrong for tithing, he says our righteousness must EXCEED that of the scribes and Pharisees. (Matthew 5:20)  We should be giving and doing so with a right heart.

But throughout the New Testament there is reference to the support of the ministry and need to not be so attached to one’s possessions that they become a distraction or even an idol.  Giving with a cheerful heart is a great antidote to such a malady.

In the Book of Common Prayer we read in the Offices of Instruction, My bounden duty is the follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of the kingdom.  (p. 291) The support of your parish church, working toward the Tithe of 10%, is an important aspect that duty.   And to do so with a cheerful heart is a spiritual treasure.

If you are not tithing now pray the Lord to help you to move toward that level of giving to His Greater Honor and Glory, and your sanctification.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Rector's Rambling - October 7, 2012 - "Where your treasure is..."

October is Stewardship month in most parishes in the Episcopal Church.
In recent years past, we have had stewardship campaigns (sermons, mailings, pledge cards, etc.) at St. John’s, and the results have been less than spectacular.  In fact I was surprised when I came here almost 12 years ago how FEW people turned in pledge cards, despite their regular financial support of the parish.  As budgets have been made, it has been a “guestimate” of what Pledge and Plate income would be, which we usually come pretty close to achieving, and occasionally exceeding.  This number is arrived at by looking at those pledge cards submitted, and the amount contributed year after year by parishioners.  Other income lines are then estimated.
I am sorry for doing you the disservice of not having a formal campaign in recent years.  Stewardship campaigns are about more than getting you to fill out a pledge card and setting a budget.  They are about your priorities of treasure, time, and talent, and ultimately about faith.  Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  An important question to ponder in the coming weeks is, “Is Jesus where your heart is?” and if so, are you supporting it with your treasure?  Furthermore, what part of that faith in Jesus is expressed at, nourished by, and encouraged by this parish?  Study, contemplation and prayer are necessary elements to answer these questions, and in the coming weeks this column will be dedicated to that contemplation, as well as with other materials.
God actually has more to say in Scripture about money and possessions than most other topics.  It is important because they can be a distraction, a stumbling block, an idol, and a cause of much anxiety.  It can also be a great blessing to be shared, and used to glorify God and serve his kingdom.  It depends on where your heart is.
Does St. John’s have a place in your heart?  How is God calling you to support her?

Rector's Rambling - September 30, 2012 - St. Michael and All Angels

This time last year I was away on my “mini-sabbatical” after 10 years as Rector of this wonderful parish.  One thing that I missed while away was the celebration of St. Michael and all Angels, which we celebrate today!
The Feast Day is actually on September 29th, but is a major day and therefore can be kept on the Sunday following, within the octave, which we are doing today.
Part of my affinity for this feast day is that our regional youth conference is under the patronage of St. Michael, the prince of the angelic host.  The original conference, still held out East (now in Connecticut) chose St. Michael because of his strength and manliness in leading the holy angels against the uprising of Satan and his minions, winning the battle for heaven (see today’s Epistle).  Subsequent off-shoot conferences (Midwest, Southwest, and soon South) continue to hold St. Michael as an example of mature, sure faith and willingness to battle (spiritually) for it.
Although a great many images of the angels are that of cute little children with wings or lovely women with harps, St. Michael is a warrior.  Others of the Archangels, Gabriel (the messenger) and Raphael (health-bringer) are also strong figures rather than a warmer, fuzzier version.  Being neither human nor animal, they are one of the created orders of our Lord, whose image, although appearing in Scripture sometimes in human form, certainly is beyond our limited human comprehension.  But angels are everywhere around us; to help us to worship, to aid us in battle against the assaults of the evil one, and sometimes to deliver to us a message from the most high.
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in the day of battle, be our strong guard against the snares and wickedness of the devil.  May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou O prince of the heavenly host thrust into hell Satan and all evil forces that wander the world seeking the ruins of souls.  This we pray in Jesus’ Holy Name.  AMEN.