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, December 22, 2014

"Are we there yet?" - Rector's Rambling for December 21, 2014

“Are we there yet?”  “How about now?”  “How much longer?”
Those of us who are parents have heard those phrases said from the back seat of the car or mini-van, as children are anxious to be done with a long trip and be at the anticipated destination (or perhaps we remember saying that ourselves).  Over on Twitter there is a funny account called, “Is it Henley Regatta time yet?”, and every day the person maintaining that account tweets, “no” (this rowing regatta in England is in July).
Well, just as during the car trip an answer of “almost there” is a small consolation, the Fourth Sunday in Advent is our “almost there” Sunday.  The church got a head start on the decorating yesterday, and today after the service, the sanctuary will be decorated, as well as the rest of the church and chapel.  We can sense even more poignantly the “almost there” of Christmas.
So, as you do all the last-minute preparations for Christmas, one thing to add to that list is to decide which Christmas service you will attend!  Though the 4:00 PM Christmas Eve service includes the Children’s Pageant, it isn’t just for families with children, but for all parishioners and friends.  The 8:30 PM Carol Prelude and 9:00 PM Candlelight Mass are our primary services for Christmas Eve, and the Christmas Day 11:00 AM service in the chapel is our smallest attended service (but growing), with a hearty amount of carol singing during the otherwise simpler spoken Communion Service.
Invite friends, family, and neighbors, and be sure to come to the great celebration that is almost here!

Ministries near and far - St. John's Ministry Notes for December 21, 2014

As we near the end of the year, it might be helpful to look at some of the many ministries in which we are involved, both directly and indirectly, here at St. John’s.
Ministries at St. John’s
· Acolytes, Altar Guild, Choir, Organ Scholar, Lectors, and Ushers to aid in Sunday worship.
· Coffee Hour Hosts, Episcopal Church Women, Daughters of the King, Order of St. Luke Healing Ministry, and Armitage Men’s Club for service and projects.
· Sunday School, Adult Education, and Bible Study for Christian Education.
· Weekday Communion and Daily Office Prayers.
· Home and hospital visitation of the sick and shut-in.
Ministries to our neighbors nearby
· Episcopal Church Women projects to support Crossroads Social Service Ministry, and to support the social service work of the Salvation Army.  The Mitten Tree to collect hats, scarves, and mittens.
· Daughters of the King projects to support Crisis Pregnancy centers.
· Weekly canned food collection to “feed God’s sheep” through Crossroads Ministry.
· Parish support of Mariner’s Inn Rehab. Center.
· Hosting of meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, five days a week, for over 50 years.
· Hosting of Cursillo Weekends in our undercroft.
· Hosting of Alternative College Spring Breaks.
· The Door Ministry – opening the building during the week for prayer and reflection, and responding to needs as able.
Ministries to our neighbors further away
· St. Michael’s Conference for Youth, Midwest.
· Support of Nashotah House Theological Seminary.
· American Commissary for St. Leonard’s Seminary in Malawi, Central Africa.
· Support of the ministries of Bishop Jackson Biggers to orphans and widows in Malawi.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Look busy? Be holy! - Rector's Rambling for December 14, 2014

It’s kind of like halftime.  Today is Gaudéte [Rejoice] Sunday, when we lighten up by using the rose colored vestments and altar hangings rather than the purple.  Although Advent doesn't have the depth of penitential sense as that other purple season, Lent, it still is an emphasis in preparing properly for the upcoming celebration for Christmas AND for Jesus’ return at the end of time.  God forbid Jesus returns and finds us unprepared like the foolish virgins who brought no oil for their lamps.
The next 11 days will be particularly busy.  Today is the Cookie Walk.  The giving tree gifts are being brought in to be delivered, and the tree transforms into the mitten (or warm fuzzy) tree for us to donate new or gently used hats, gloves, scarves and sweaters for those less fortunate.  Next Saturday and Sunday we will be greening (decorating) the church in anticipation of the Christmas Eve and Day celebrations.  Plan on volunteering on one or both days to make the church look extra special for both our parishioners and guests.  The children will be rehearsing next week at 9:30 AM for the Christmas Eve Children’s Pageant and the Children’s Choir has been busy preparing their offering at that service.  And, of course, the Choir has been very busy preparing music for the 8:30 and 9:00 PM services.
I joked in my sermon on the First Sunday in Advent about the bumper sticker, “Jesus is coming soon: look busy”.  Of course Salvation is nothing about looking or being busy.  But busy this time of the year can be a wonderful, positive opportunity for interaction and service to the greater Glory of God, and that is always a good thing!  But be sure to also take time to pray, read, and listen to God in preparation for the Feast of the Nativity AND Jesus’ return too.

The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.  Amen.
This Collect is to be repeated every day, after the other Collects in Advent, until Christmas Day

Monday, December 08, 2014

Looking back and looking forward - Rector's Rambling for December 7, 2014

Advent is a time of new start, and of looking forward in eager anticipation.  As we discussed last week in this column, and in the sermon, we are looking forward not only to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but also look forward in preparation for His return in glorious majesty to judge the quick and the dead.
This year for Advent we are also doing some secular forward-looking as well.  At 9:15 AM on December 7 we have our Special Parish Meeting, to make a decision about whether to enter into a lease agreement with Olympia Development.  This will affect St. John’s in many ways, through the development of the neighborhood for apartments, retail, and a parking garage.
One-hundred-fifty-six years ago yesterday, Henry Porter Baldwin gathered a group of neighbors and proposed starting an Episcopal parish on this plot of land.  The proposal was for a 150 seat chapel and eventually a 1000+ seat church to be built in what was basically farmlands and orchards outside of the city.  What seemed foolish to many was in fact forward-looking and providential.  The city grew around St. John’s!
Many changes have happened to the neighborhood in those 156 years, some good, some bad.  St. John’s once again has the opportunity to be forward-looking in being a part of the changes to the neighborhood, with opportunities for growth in membership and new ministries.  These are exciting times!
May God guide and govern us in all our doings concerning these decisions, to His greater honor and glory.

(note- the Special Meeting of the Parish voted unanimously to empower the Vestry to enter into the lease with Olympia Development once the details are hammered out.)

From the Rector - Advent Eagle (Newsletter) 2014

Who would have thought the Rector would be happy to be bumped to the second page of the newsletter?  But happy I am because of what has replaced me on the front page: the good news announcing a Special Parish Meeting!  Elsewhere in this newsletter is information on the purpose of the meeting, and I hope that you can be there on what will be an historic day. 

Each year as Christmas approaches I am reminded of a Christmas Eve in 1992, when I worshipped at St. John’s for the first time.  I was a seminarian and had been invited by the Schafers, who are long-time family friends.  I wouldn’t have imagined that just over 8 years later I would be the rector of this same parish!  That first time I worshipped here the neighborhood was quite shoddy.  By the time I arrived as rector it had improved greatly with the opening of the new stadium, and in fits and starts it has continued to improve.  After a lull in the economy, improvements are underway again with the new hockey arena under construction, and all the ancillary development of apartments, retail, and office space.

As a ‘glass half-full’ guy, I am usually looking for the positive, and looking and working toward the future.  Although there were a couple of rough years during the economic downturn, the past 18 months have proven to be a grace-filled time of forward-looking, positive growth and ministry.  And although, as always, I would be happier to see a couple dozen more people in the pews no matter how full we are, so many metrics of spiritual and parochial health are upward trending that we are the envy of many of my priest friends around the country.  God is blessing us in innumerable ways!

Advent is a season of being forward-looking: to not only the coming of the Christmas Feast, but also the coming again of Jesus Christ.  Let us prepare our hearts and minds for both!  There are great opportunities to worship, for fellowship, and giving for this season of preparation, so take advantage of them.

And NOW is the time to be inviting your friends, family, and neighbors for the Christmas services; 4pm Children’s Pageant, and the Solemn celebration at 8:30 and 9pm.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

From the Senior Warden - Advent Eagle (Newsletter) 2014

St. John's Senior Warden, Bruce J. Burton, writes - 

We are truly blessed at St John’s.  Who could have ever imagined all of the great things that are happening within and around our parish only two or three years ago?  Who could have imagined that our beloved city would suffer bankruptcy and then emerge with prospects as good as we have seen in the past 100 years?  Most of all, St John’s is right in the center of all of this very positive activity and we should feel blessed that our good and gracious Lord has provided us new opportunities to minister in our immediate community, just like we did 150 years ago.

Let us all take a few minutes and reflect on how we have been blessed over the past few months: 

Our first blessing was that our vestry came together over the summer and prioritized the opportunities to improve our parish.  The first item on our list was to minister to the young people in and around our parish.  We all prayed on this and we received our second blessing very shortly thereafter: John Gardner was available to join our ministry team as our Assisting Pastor.  John has a strong background in young adult ministry, having attended Purdue, where he was active in the Campus Crusade for Christ.   He continued this ministry at Wayne State University, only a few blocks from St. John’s.   John is recently married to Lindsay, and I hope that you will spend time with both John and Lindsay at St John’s or in your home.

No sooner than the vestry made our list, Olympia Development provided us with our third blessing, which has appeared in the form of an economic opportunity to enter into a long-term contract for the lease of our land.  To all of us, a long-term commitment for our property for an apartment building is very threatening and is a visible change to our immediate neighborhood.   The vestry asks that all of us pray daily for guidance on this blessing.  Everyone one of us are included in making the decision to enter into a contract with Olympia when we assemble at a special parish meeting on December 7. 
Please continue to pray for our parish, our vestry, our clergy and lay ministers and every member of our parish. 
Our prayers are being answered!

Monday, December 01, 2014

Happy New (Church) Year - Rector's Rambling for November 30, 2014

Happy New Year!
We start the church year all over again this Sunday.  Although the calendar year still has another month to go, it is with the beginning of Advent that we begin again with this season of preparation.
Human beings are created in time and space.  We move from minute to minute, hour to hour.  We plan and plod, and move through light, constrained by time.  And of course the seasons also change in a cyclical pattern (even if winter seems to have jumped the gun on us this year) and help us to mark that time.
The church recognizes this reality, and uses it to the advantage of our sanctification.  As we move through the seasons and times, each one is overlapped by a church season with a different emphasis for our salvation story.
As days are getting darker the church bids us to prepare.  The darkness will not last forever, the sun will return.  So too, liturgically, the SON, the light of the world has come into the world at His earthly birth, and He is coming back again.  Prepare and be ready!  Advent bids us to prepare not only for the celebration of Jesus’ birth, but also for His return to judge the living and the dead.  And more than the preparations of the secular Christmas celebration, or even our religious preparations for the Christmas Mass, we need to be ready TODAY, in case Jesus comes back now!
So let us make a church New Year’s Resolution: to be regular about church attendance, prayer, and amendment of life.  All of these can be offered as gifts to our Lord, but the greater gift is to us – eternal life in Jesus Christ!