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, August 23, 2013

Weekday Communion Services - Teaching Notes for September 15, 2013

Weekday Communion Services
During the weekdays at St. John’s a most wonderful, amazing, and glorious thing happens, and it is witnessed and attended by relatively few people, some of whom aren’t even members here.
On most Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 12:15 PM, and Thursdays at 10:30 AM, Jesus Christ is present.  He is present in a wonderful, sacramental way.  It is during those times that the Holy Communion is celebrated.
As Catholic Christians (which Anglicans are – see the last few lines of the Nicene Creed) we consider the reception of the Blessed Sacrament a weekly, Sunday obligation.  It is Jesus’ gift to us, His own Body and Blood, to nourish and equip us by Grace to become saints and share the Good News of God’s love with others.  But it is also our privilege as members of the Church to receive this Sacrament more frequently.
Although our Sunday celebration is our primary worship, and performed at 10:00 AM with solemnity, ritual, and music, the weekday celebration of the Holy Communion is closer in comparison to the 8:00 AM celebration on Sunday.
Fr. David Ousley wrote, while he was an Episcopal Priest in Philadelphia, that the difference between the Sunday Solemn High Mass and a weekday service (called “Low Mass”) is like the difference between a formal state banquet with a King and a quiet dinner at home with the same potentate.  Although one is fed in both instances, the grand occasion of the larger gathering with guests calls for greater ceremonial, whereas the regular dinner is just as nourishing but simpler and more intimate.
A weekday Low Mass at St. John’s is an intimate encounter with Jesus our King.  Come spend 30 minutes during the week worshiping Him, being instructed, and being fed with His own Body and Blood at a weekday Mass in addition to Sunday.

The Burial of the Dead - Rector's Rambling for September 8, 2013

Having looked at the Pastoral Offices the last seven weeks (including Baptism, Offices of Instruction, Order of Confirmation, Matrimony, Thanksgiving for Child-birth, Visitation and Communion of the Sick), we now finish this section with the Order for the Burial of the Dead. (p. 324)
The 1928 Book of Common Prayer presupposes a more protestant model for the burial of the dead, based on it being an “Office” like Morning and Evening Prayer.  The Office beings with the well known sentences, “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord….”.  And like a Daily Office, it then has a series of Psalms and Readings assigned, followed by prayers.  Add a few hymns and a sermon and you have a complete burial service.  There is also then a ‘lesser office’ to be used “At the Grave” (p. 332)   Both Offices however could be used in a Church, Funeral Home, or Cemetery.  There is also a specific form for the Burial of a Child on page 340.
The more ancient custom for a burial is The Requiem Mass.  This is a celebration of the Holy Communion with the special intention for the dearly departed.  The service begins with the phrase “Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon them”.  By the publication of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer there was a reclaiming of this more ancient way by many in the Episcopal Church.  A Collect and Lessons are appointed for use at a Communion Service “At the Burial of The Dead” on page 268. 
At St. John’s we make both options available for use at the Burial of the Dead.  What is important is that you discuss which service you would like NOW, while you are living, and put in writing that desire as well as hymn choices so that your family, in their grief, will have one less thing to have to worry about or plan. We will be happy to keep a copy of those written desires on file in the parish office.

Communion of the sick - Rector's Rambling for September 1, 2013

The Prayer Book has in its Pastoral Offices a form for what is known as “Home Communion”. In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer it is called Communion of the Sick. (p. 321)
There are two options presented in this section for receiving Holy Communion when sick.   Both options expect the priest to say the Holy Communion Service in the home or hospital.  What is provided in this section is two sets of Collects and Readings pertaining to illness and healing to be used in the celebration of Holy Communion at home.  There is also a shorter form, to be used “when circumstances render it expedient to shorten the Service” in which case the priest can begin at the Confession and Absolution, and go immediately to “Lift up your heart….” and continue through the Communion Service to the end.  The service also includes an admonition to those gravely ill on the importance of receiving the Holy Sacrament.
At the time of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer the Episcopal Church had not fully recovered the ancient practice of reserving the Blessed Sacrament.  The Body of our Lord, having been consecrated in the bread of the Altar, is reserved in a tabernacle or ambry so that it can be brought to the sick at home or hospital.
Connecting this visit with the Sunday celebration through that Reserved Sacrament, the person receives all the grace of Jesus’ Body and Blood under the species of the Sacrament in that one kind.  The service is also shorter (a help to those in semi-public places like a hospital room, or in great pain) and focused on the reception of the Sacrament as well.  It is frequently combined with Holy Unction (anointing with holy oil for healing).  The Reserved Sacrament is also a great aid in urgent, emergency situations and need.
Whether at church, hospital, or home, receiving Communion is always a good thing!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Visitation of the Sick - Rector's Rambling for August 25, 2013

Continuing forward in the Pastoral Offices of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, having looked at Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, and the Churching of Women, we now look at the Visitation of the Sick (p. 308–20).
The Order for the Visitation of the Sick is a set form of antiphons, psalms, and prayers for the health and healing of the sick, and repentance of sins.  Also included at the end of this office is a subset of prayers, beginning with a Litany for the Dying, with prayers for a holy death.
There are three things I find of particular interest in this office.  The first is at the end, where the minister finds the rubric (instruction) that The Minister is ordered, from time to time, to advise the People, whilst they are in health, to make Wills arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, and, when of ability, to leave Bequests for religious and charitable uses.
The second of interest is that although all American Books of Common Prayer contained instruction for the sick person to examine their conscience of sin and to make amends where able, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer introduced this rubric (p. 313): Then shall the sick person be moved to make a special confession of his sins, if he feel his conscience troubled with any matter; after which confession, on evidence of his repentance, the Minister shall assure him of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  This is the first instance of instruction for auricular (in the ear), or private confession, in an Anglican prayer book.  The 1979 Prayer Book is the first to contain a form for such a confession.
Finally, the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is the first American Prayer Book to contain a form for Unction of the Sick, better known as anointing with Holy Oil.  Considered a “minor” sacrament, and a great aid in the spiritual life, it is surprising that it is not contained in previous prayer books.  When administered at the time of death, it is known as Extreme Unction, or Last Rites.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Churching of Women - Rector's Rambling for August 18, 2013

If you haven’t noticed, the Pastoral Offices of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer move in what is the most common chronological order: baptism, confirmation, and matrimony.  The next Office is one rarely used now, “The Thanksgiving of Women after Child-birth, commonly called the Churching of Women.” (p. 305)
The tradition comes from the older Jewish practice of a woman being confined from public worship for 40 days.  Jewish purity laws believed that a woman was unclean during the issue of blood, which also happens for a time after the birth of a child.  We may remember that our Lord was Presented in the Temple, and his mother Mary Purified on the 40th day of his life in the account from Luke 2:22–40.  Although it seems archaic to us, until recently a “due date” was known as the E.D.C. or “Estimated Date of Confinement”, assuming the mother and child need a time to bond and recover physically from the birth experience.  The confinement was also honored in ancient time for the child and mother’s health.
The 1928 Prayer Book liturgy celebrates the safe delivery of the child, giving thanks in prayer that God has been “graciously pleased to preserve, through the great pain and peril of child-birth, this woman, thy servant, who desireth now to offer her praises and thanksgivings unto thee.” (p. 306)  The Church also prays that “the child of this thy servant may daily increase in wisdom and stature, and grow in thy love and service, until he come to thy eternal joy.” (p. 307)
One interesting part of the rubric (instructions) for the service is the admonition that “The Woman…must offer accustomed offerings, which shall be applied by the Minister and the Church-wardens to the relief of distressed women in child-bed.”
Although written to be used in the Church, these prayers would certainly be convenient for use at home or hospital after the birth of a child by not only the clergy but laity as well.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Special Tribute from the Governor of Michigan

On Behalf of the People of Michigan I, Rick Snyder, governor of Michigan, do hereby pay special tribute to ST. JOHN'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH.

LET IT BE KNOWN, that it brings me great pleasure to recognize the 155th Anniversary of St. John's Episcopal Church in Detroit.

After being established on St. John the Evangelist Day on December 27, 1858, St. John's Episcopal Church was later build on the northern outskirts of Detroit in 1859.  Soon after it was built, it was realized that the current building was inadequate, and new church was constructed and completed on December 10, 1861.  Although the church has changed over the years, its Victorian Gothic theme, stained glass windows, and intricate interior and exterior design have made it a true historical treasure in Detroit.

For the past 155 years, St. John's Episcopal Church has offered worship, music, Christian education, fellowship, and outreach not only to its congregation, but to the surrounding Detroit community as well.  Individually and corporately, St. John's is involved in ministries aiding the homeless in the Metro Detroit Area, as well as supporting the social service work of Crossroad Ministries.

While St. John's works to serve the people of the congregation and the Metro Detroit Area, they have also reached beyond the realm of their community to support several seminaries and various national church organizations.  St. John's has also made efforts to reach out internationally by affiliating with the Diocese of Northern Malawi.  Clearly St. John's Episcopal Church as extended support not only to the people of their own community, but to those around the country and world.

It gives me great pleasure to commemorate the 155 years that St. John's Episcopal Church has been serving the Detroit community, Michigan citizens, and those in need around the globe.  Their commitment and devotion to community service and worldwide outreach is commendable, and I want to personally thank those who have helped make St. John's a cornerstone in the Metro Detroit Area, as well as those currently working to keep this church growing and thriving for many more years to come.

IN SPECIAL TRIBUTE, therefore, this document is signed and dedicated, on behalf of the people of Michigan, to recognize the 155th Anniversary of St. John's Episcopal Church in Detroit.  I extend my best wishes for continued success and prosperity in all of your future endeavors.

/s/ Rick Snyder, Governor

Monday, August 12, 2013

Solemnization of Marriage - Rector's Rambling for August 11, 2013

Continuing our look at the Pastoral Offices of the Book of Common Prayer, we now look at The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony, better known as Marriage. (p. 300)
Reading through the Marriage rite in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer the first thing one notices is the brevity of the service.  The service parts are the Introduction (Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God…), Declaration of Consent (Wilt thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife…), the Vows (for better for worse, for richer for poorer…), the Giving of the Ring(s), the Prayers, and the Blessing.
If the entire service is done with only the portions in the prayer book the service is about 10 minutes long.  Looking through the Parish Registers one sees several weddings on a single Saturday, and I was told by older parishioners when I first arrived that they remembered weddings here being in the morning, on the half-hour, without music or other trappings, and several on the same day.
The 1928 wedding service is frequently used in movies and TV settings because of its beauty.  Royal Weddings, from the 1662 English Prayer Book, are very similar in content and beauty.
Few weddings now are of this quick, simple variety.  Most are embellished by music, with readings from Scripture (reclaimed from the older liturgies), and most importantly, usually are done in the context of The Holy Communion, for which there are readings provided on page 267.  There is no better way to start married life than with the reception of The Blessed Sacrament.
As I tell folks preparing for marriage, whether you have a 10 minute simple service with cake and punch in the undercroft, or hire the choir for a Solemn High Mass and a reception at a private club, both couples are validly married!  What matters is the “I will”, with the promise and a desire by the man and woman to have the Lord be the center of the couple’s married life until death they do part.

Monday, August 05, 2013

The Order of Confirmation - Rector's Ramblings - August 4, 2013

Continuing our look at the Pastoral Offices of the Book of Common Prayer, having already done Baptism and the Offices of Instruction, we now move into the next office – The Order of Confirmation.
Known as a minor sacrament (compared to the dominical sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion which are generally necessary for salvation), Confirmation has several emphases.
Since most are baptized as children, and promises are made for us by our sponsors at our Baptism, Confirmation is when we make a public affirmation of those promises.  The candidate, no longer content to rest on the promises of others, answers now for themselves.  During the service the bishop asks, “Do ye here, in the presence of God, and of this congregation, renew the solemn promise and vow that ye made, or that was made in your name, at your Baptism; ratifying and confirming the same; and acknowledging yourselves bound to believe and to do all those things which ye then undertook, or your Sponsors then undertook for you?” (p.296)
But in addition to a public affirmation of a promise already made, it is a sacramental gift asking God the Holy Ghost in increase more and more in the individual.  The Bishop prays that the candidate “…daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thy everlasting kingdom.” (p. 297)
In the past, Holy Communion was usually delayed until after Confirmation, but Confirmation was held earlier (in some places as young as age seven).  No longer a requirement for Holy Communion, Confirmation is generally done around the age of 12 (much like a Jewish child has their bar mitzvah) or older as their conscience dictates.
The next Confirmation service at St. John’s will most likely be in the winter or spring.