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

Friday, February 22, 2013

My 12th Anniversary at St. John's!

Twelve years ago this week I arrived as the Rector of St. John’s Church here in Detroit.  I consider it to have been a great privilege and a great grace to baptize 119 adults and children, present 105 people for confirmation or reception, solemnize 64 marriages, and officiate at the burial rites for 68 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 week 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 12 years!  Tempus fugit – time flies!  St. John’s has so many wonderful people, and her future is certainly bright, all by His Grace!

Praying the Holy Communion Service

  With our glorious choir at the 10:00 AM service, and the many things that take place up at the altar, it is easy to slip into “passive-parishioner” mode during the celebration of the Holy Communion.  Yet we are called to worship, not just sit and watch.  After all, liturgy is “the work of the people”, and it is how we as a body glorify God.
Just as each part of our body has different jobs, so too there are many and various “jobs” at our Divine Liturgy.  The Priest plays a sacerdotal role (priestly sacramental role) as he leads the liturgy, invoking the Lord’s presence, (especially at the altar during the Eucharistic Canon), offering our common prayers, and granting God’s absolution and blessing.  The Assisting Priests, Lay Eucharistic Ministers, and Acolytes do their part in helping to lead the liturgy, or to help others in their rolls.  The Altar Guild is active before and after with their duties, and the ushers have their assigned duties to help things go smoothly.
The Choir has an obvious roll in leading and presenting music, which is an offering of praise and prayer.  But let me remind you that everyone is expected to join in the singing of hymns and canticles!  This is one area where the whole body must join in, no matter what part of the liturgy they are fulfilling.  The Congregation should be able to drown out the Choir on most hymns – outnumbering them 8 to 1!  In addition, the hymns are great teaching tools; reading the texts through before the service is a good preparatory meditation.  Also, you should follow the text printed in the bulletin as the Choir sings the anthem and Minor Propers.
Those in the pews, in addition to hearty singing, should be following the liturgy in the Prayer Book to keep their minds alert.  We should be responding with joyous (and audible) “Amen” and “And with thy Spirit”.  We should also be, in our hearts, adding our own intentions (prayer requests) and thanksgivings during the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church and the Eucharistic Canon.  And of course, we should be actively listening during the readings and the sermon.
Although the 8:00 AM Sunday, and Weekday services are without music, parishioners still actively participate in the worship with their prayers and responses.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Observance of an Holy Lent

1. Fasting  -  The weekdays of Lent are fast days, meaning that the amount of food is reduced.  A good (if modern) suggestion is no snacks, no seconds, no desserts, and no alcohol.  If you don’t normally eat snacks or drink, you may consider giving up some favorite food.  The idea is to undertake something sacrificial, yet not overwhelming.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are strict fast days: one full meal in the evening, a very light one in the afternoon and for some nothing before 3pm.  Those who are ill, elderly, pregnant or nursing are excused from this discipline. (Page li, 1928 B.C.P.)

2. Abstinence - Abstaining from flesh meat on Fridays (as required by the Prayer Book) is a common discipline for Lent.  An ancient custom is to abstain from flesh meat on Wednesdays as well as Fridays.  Flesh meat includes all meat except fish.  Going vegetarian these days is also an option. (Page li, 1928 B.C.P.)

3. Holy Communion  - Lent is a good time to add a weekday Service to your usual Sunday attendance.  Weekday Services are about 30 minutes and are of a rather more intimate and quiet nature than those on Sunday.  The Wednesday Service also includes the Sacrament of Healing (Holy Unction). 

4. Daily Office  - If you do not now read Morning and/or Evening Prayer from the Prayer Book, Lent is a good time to begin doing so.  It takes some effort and discipline to get the habit established, but once accomplished, it can bear great fruit in your spiritual life.  Each Office takes 10-15 minutes a day.   Ask the Clergy if you need help in how to do it.

5. Spiritual Reading  - An ancient custom is to take a spiritual book for regular reading during Lent.  This can be a book on the Scriptures, or one of the spiritual classics.   Many are available in the parish library, and the clergy would be happy to make suggestions as well.

6. Confession  - A sacramental confession, in private to a priest, is not only an opportunity for a thorough self-examination, but also a powerful weapon against the temptations which come our way in Lent.   The Parish Clergy are available for this sacrament, as are other priests in the area.  Although the Anglican Communion does not require Sacramental Confession, it is permitted, and helpful.  More individuals should take advantage of this sacrament.

7.  Self-Denial  - You may want to give up some special pleasure or recreation for Lent (smoking, sweets, television), and perhaps give what you would have spent on it to charity.  This can be done in conjunction with other practices: if, for example, you give up an hour of TV every day, you might use it to read Evening Prayer and some Scripture. 
8. Service  - As well as “giving up” something in Lent, some wish to “take on” some special service, such as visiting a shut-in parishioner, volunteering at a hospital or nursing home, running errands for an elderly neighbor, or some special project at the church or in the community.

9. Scripture Reading  - Delving into the Word of God is never out of season.  Lent is a good time to establish (or re-establish) the discipline of a daily time of Scripture reading at home.  Using the lectionary (the appointed readings) for the daily office is a good starting point.

10. Educational Opportunities
Take the opportunity in Lent to join the Adult Ed. Class on Sundays at 9:05am or look for a local bible study to join.

11. Corporate Special Devotions  - There are numerous opportunities for your spiritual growth throughout Lent.  In addition to Communion and Daily Offices, on Thursdays we have Adoration and Benediction, and on Fridays at noon the parish will gather at the Church for Stations of the Cross following Mass.   

12. Evangelism  - Lent is a good time to renew ones commitment to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with friends and neighbors, and to invite them to worship with us here at St. John’s.

Brochure originally written by the late Ann Marie Shuster,
and revised periodically  by Fr. Steven J. Kelly.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Rector's Rambling - February 10, 2013

Today we have two things of particular note.
First, we celebrate Quinquagesima Sunday which means this is our last Sunday before Lent begins on Wednesday.  This means we should be thinking about those things we are “giving up” for Lent, as well as those things that we are taking on as well.  By that I mean, not only should we chose something to give up as a discipline (like not having coffee, or chocolate, for Lent), but also make a decision to take on an additional devotion and discipline, such as attending a weekday service, Adult Education, or praying Morning and/or Evening Prayer from the Prayer Book every day.
We “give up things for Lent” for several reasons.  First, it teaches us that we can live without some of the little pleasures.  We are not talking about sinful things (if it is sinful it should be given up, Lent or not!), but some thing that we give it up as a reminder that we don’t need it and can live without “things”.  But also, we need to remember that we are not animals, slaves to our passions and impulses.  As an Orthodox priest friend of mine once said of his young son, “If he can’t learn to say ‘no’ to the temptation of a candy bar now, how will he learn how to say ‘no’ to harder temptations in his teens and beyond?”
We also “take on” things in Lent, such as extra prayers, worship services, and even service to others, not because the works earn our way into heaven!  We do them because they help us to focus and be prepared and open, spiritually and psychologically, for the good that God is seeking to give to us.
The other thing to note is that we have our Annual Parish Meeting today after the 10:00 AM service.  Called to order back on January 27th and recessed until today, we will have lunch, election of new members of the Vestry, financial reports, and reports from various ministries and parish organizations.  Be sure to attend to be informed of all that is going on in the parish as well as being informed about our financial position.