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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Memorial day and start of the Summer - Rector's Rambling for May 25, 2014

A blessed Memorial Day weekend to everyone!  This unofficial start of summer is always a weekend of hope for the warmer, pleasant weeks ahead, as well as introspection on the sacrifice made for us by those who served and died for our country.
With the warmer weather people do more travel and outdoor activities.  Some families in the parish are thoroughly entrenched in youth baseball, with multiple games scheduled each week and weekend.  Golf and sailing are enjoyed by many.  Additionally this summer, there will be family gatherings, summer camps, and evenings at the community parks and swimming pools.  St. John’s neighborhood will be buzzing with Tigers Baseball, The Motor City Hoedown (next weekend), weekend festivals, and a few big concerts and conventions at Comerica Park and Ford Field.
But first things first.  With all the temptations to be busy this summer, our regular attendance at Church is vital, because all those things listed above will pass away, but our faith in Jesus and involvement in His church has eternal consequences.  Please be sure to not let your recreation get you out of the habit of being regular about attending Sunday worship.
We also look back in thanksgiving and remembrance of the sacrifice made by countless Americans for the preservation of our freedoms.  Although the “picnic/start of summer” will be in the forefront of most people’s minds this weekend, please take time tomorrow on Memorial Day to thank God for these sacrifices.
A Collect for Memorial Days
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; We give thee thanks for all those thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country.  Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, that the good work which thou hast begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord.  Amen.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Reaching others electronically - Rector's Rambling for May 18, 2014

St. John’s has been blessed by having a strong Internet, media, and social media presence.  It is remarkable to see the reach that the parish has inside and outside of our local area.
Recently we received a letter from a man in Indiana.  He begins his note by saying, “I am a subscriber and viewer of your YouTube Channel”, and then goes on to describe finding a newspaper article from the Detroit News in 1954, used as wrapping around some old photos.  On one newspaper page was an article about St. John’s tenth rector, Rev’d I. C. Johnson, and his 20th anniversary as Rector of St. John’s.  He recognized the name of the parish because he knows us from YouTube.  We are frequently contacted by people from around the country, and even other countries, with notes of thanksgiving for our YouTube presence.  They love the inspiring music, and their hearts are lifted to God by the videos.
St. John’s receives a remarkable amount of public relations and media coverage for our Pray Here for the Tigers Service, and our location next to Comerica Park.  A combination of that service, Tigers Opening Day, and Holy Week/Easter being within a few weeks of each other, this month made for a deluge of “hits” on our Web site, YouTube channel, and my blog.
How much traffic?  In the month of April the parish Web site had over 4000 pages loaded (viewed).  The YouTube channel had 18,372 videos viewed.  And my blog had 520 unique visitors who read articles.  In addition, the twitter feed and Facebook page have both been quite active as well.
We have several parishioners who have found us through the Internet.  Bryan Monaco searched “1928 Book of Common Prayer, Detroit” on Google and we were the first choice.  We had a graduate student at the University of Michigan who began worshipping with us after she had become disheartened that there was not a traditional Anglican parish in the immediate Ann Arbor area.  She searched “Healy Willan” on YouTube, and the first video listed was from St. John’s singing his Mass setting.  Parishioner Rebecca Chung was a Middle School friend with whom I became re-acquainted via Facebook, and joined St. John’s when she moved back to Detroit.
More and more the Internet will become the vehicle for those searching for a church home, or searching for examples of well done classical worship in the Anglican tradition.  We certainly are not, nor should we be, hiding our light under a bushel (Matthew 5:15).
There is more that we can do.  The next step is to begin webcasting the 10:00 AM service.  This means that those unable to attend worship can listen in through the Web site to the service.  I know that my parents have mentioned that they would like to be able to listen in on Sunday mornings from Arizona, as would our shut-ins.  Priest friends of mine in New York who webcast their worship have an “Internet congregation”, in addition to the local congregation, who support the parish in prayer as well as contributions (via the Internet, of course).
All this opens opportunities for parishioners to invite friends and neighbors to St. John’s.  Before they even step in the door, they can hear and see who we are, and have some familiarity.  There is a chance they have heard of the “church next to Comerica Park”.  It is our duty to invite them and welcome them into our congregation.
Here are some of the ways to connect:

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

One fewer church on Piety Hill - a mid-week thought by The Rector.

Our neighborhood used to be called Piety Hill, with 6 Churches and a Synagogue. The Synagogue is now Wayne State University's Bonstelle Theatre.  

Of the 6 churches that made up Piety Hill in Detroit, only 2 remain as churches: Central Methodist and St. John's Episcopal (my church).  

The Presbyterian Church is now the Ecumenical Theological Seminary and seems in good repair on the outside  

Sadly, another church on Piety Hill has been destroyed by fire, joining Woodward Avenue Baptist and St. Patrick's.  

St. Patrick's was sold to the city in 1973, abandoned, and burned in 1993.  The city has plans to use it as a rec center, which never materialized.  It was at one time the Cathedral of the Roman Catholic Diocese. (The Burton Collection photo).  It was located on Adelaide Street, between Woodward and John R.

The Woodward Baptist Church on Piety Hill was sold to a local church before abandonment and eventual fire in 1986.  You can see St. John's in the background of this photo (flat top tower) and Central Methodist behind that.  I-75 now runs between St. John's and where the Baptist Church was located.  (The Burton Collection photo)

On May 10, 2014 The First Unitarian Church on Woodward burned.  Although the church is referred to as First Unitarian, in fact the Unitarians built it and used it for only 47 years. The next 77 years if was used by the Church of Christ and various independent congregations. It has been empty, except for 6 months, since 2001 when I arrived at St. John's.  The former Presbyterian Church, now Ecumenical Seminary, is located behind it.  (Detroit Free Press Photo)

Demolition began immediately after the fire, and three days later all that remained was the tower and a pile of rubble.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

A Baseball Sunday Welcome - Rector's Rambling for May 11, 2014

There are many things that are unique about this parish church, and you are experiencing one of them today: Detroit Tigers Baseball Outing Sunday!  Obviously, no other Episcopal parish can boast that it is the Church next to Comerica Park, and with the exception of the neighboring Methodist church across the parking lot I don’t know of any other church situated so close to a Major League Baseball stadium.  Add to that Ford Field and the soon to be built (God willing) Red Wings arena across Woodward and you have quite the unique location for a parish church!
But perhaps the nicest, unique thing about today is that having sold over 260 tickets to the game (down from 350 last year due to today being Mother’s Day), this 10:00 AM service is generally the best attended single service of the year.  Christmas and Easter, having three services each, have more total attendees, but no one single service has had as many as the primary service on Tiger Baseball Outing Sunday.
This is our 14th Tiger Baseball Sunday.  The first year I threw out the first pitch.  Since the second year, the choir has sung the National Anthem at the game.  It is not often one gets to perform before upwards of 40,000 people!  They bring glory to God as they honor our country, and the fans hear that it is our wonderful choir from St. John’s across the street from the stadium.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that on the other 51 Sundays, even though we don’t eat hot dogs afterwards and go to the baseball game, St. John’s is a wonderful place to worship the Living God.  I hope that all our visitors today will consider visiting with us again on another “regular” Sunday, and even consider making St. John’s their church home.  We have worship worth attending every Sunday, with a warm fellowship in an exciting location in downtown Detroit (all by God’s grace, and all to His Glory).

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Good Shepherd Sunday - A Teaching Note for May 4, 2014

Continuing our Easter celebration (Easter is 50 days, just like Lent was 40 days), we have now come to Good Shepherd Sunday.
As a city/suburban boy, the idea of a shepherd is not an every day reality for me.  But it certainly was for Jesus and for most living in Palestine during the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Even those who lived in a big city like Jerusalem (which compared to today’s big cities was quite small) would have experienced shepherds, or even had members of the family who were shepherds.
Journalist and historian Paul Johnson published a book called Jesus: A biography from a believer (Viking Press, 2010).  I heard a radio interview with him in which he engages in some speculative history.  Musing about those years between ages 12 and 30, when we have no gospel account of Jesus’ life, Johnson hypothesizes that perhaps Jesus himself spent some time as a shepherd.
Although I have heard some awful theories about those hidden years (the worst being that he went to India to learn tantric magic to use for healing ministry), Johnson’s thoughts are backed up with some loving care and discernment.  The tender way that Jesus speaks of shepherds, and their care and concern for their flocks, leads Johnson to theorize that Jesus speaks from some experience with caring for the sheep.
Whether or not Paul Johnson is correct about those hidden years, we do know that Jesus holds up the shepherd as an example of one who cares for his sheep, and is willing to even give his life for them.  Jesus himself is the Good Shepherd, and the word “pastor” comes from the Latin word for shepherd.  It is a fine reminder to those of us who are clergy that we are called to not be hirelings (who care not for the sheep), but to be shepherds to the congregations committed to our care.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Conversion of St. Augustine - Rector's Rambling for May 4, 2014

Tomorrow (May 5) the Church celebrates the conversion of St. Augustine of Hippo.
Although the Church was blessed with many outstanding theologians in her first five centuries, St. Augustine stands a head above the many others for his lasting impact upon the life of the Church.
St. Augustine wrote across many genres of theological disciplines.  His City of God was an answer to the pagan accusations that the fall of Rome was due to the gods’ anger at the abandonment of worship of them because of Christianity.  St. Augustine refutes this on many levels, comparing the City of Man (Rome) to the City of God (Heaven), and that Rome’s fall was in large part due to its loss of virtue and morality.
He also wrote texts and letters refuting the errors of various heretical groups, one of which he used to belong to before his conversion (Manichæan).  Most voluminous are his exegetical writings on the Scriptures along with various moral and pastoral topics.  No other one person would have such an impact on the theology of the church until St. Thomas Aquinas (13th Century).
The Feast tomorrow commemorates his conversion as an adult to Christianity from the false teachings of the Manichees.  He was living in Milan and teaching rhetoric.  He went to hear St. Ambrose preach because of his reputation as a good rhetorician (speaker/debater).  Over time the Truth about Jesus began to challenge him.  Supported by the holy prayers for conversion by his mother Monica, in a moment of emotional angst he hears a child’s sing-song calling to “Pick it up and read”.  He picks up the Scriptures and is convicted of his sin and need to convert.
This story is contained in the book The Confessions of St. Augustine, and I commend it to you most heartily!  It is not a long, arduous theological tome, but a great read for those at any stage of spiritual growth.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Paschal Candle - A teaching note for April 27, 2014

The flame of the Paschal candle symbolizes Christ as light of the world and his presence in the midst of his people.  The Paschal candle is sometimes referred to as the “Easter candle” or the “Christ candle.”  The term “Paschal” comes from the word Pesach, which in Hebrew means Passover.  The tall white candle in many ways signifies the Divine pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that lead the Israelites in their Exodus from slavery in Egypt.
The Paschal candle holds a prominent place in worship in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and some other Protestant churches.  For congregations that use a Paschal candle it is the largest candle in the worship space.  In most cases today the candle will display several common symbols:
· The cross is always the central symbol, most clearly identifying it as the Paschal candle
· The Greek letters alpha and omega signify that God is the beginning and the end (taken from the Book of Revelation)
· The current year represents God’s presence here and now in the midst of the gathered worshipers
· Five grains of incense are embedded in the candle (sometimes encased in wax “nails”) during the Easter Vigil to represent the five wounds of Jesus: one in each hand, one in each foot, and the spear thrust into his side
The candle remains lit at all worship services throughout Eastertide, until Ascension Day (when it is extinguished just after the Gospel) during which time it is located in the sanctuary close to the altar.  After Eastertide, it is frequently placed near the baptismal font.
The Paschal candle is also lit during services that include the sacrament of baptism to signify the Spirit and fire that John the Baptist promised to those who were baptized in Christ.  During the sacrament of baptism in many traditions, a small candle will be lit and presented to the newly-baptized by a member of the community with words similar to, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (St. Matthew v. 16.)
The Paschal candle is often lit and placed near the casket (or remains) for worship services surrounding the death of a believer (funeral, Mass of Repose, and Mass of Requiem) as a sign of the hope of the resurrection into which Christians are baptized.
~ Edited by Fr. Kelly from wikipedia.org/Paschal_candle