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

Monday, February 01, 2016

Rector's Report to the 156th Annual Parish Meeting - January 31, 2016

            As I finish my 15th year as the Rector of St. John’s I give thanks once again for the great grace of being the priest here in this portion of His vineyard.  So much has changed in the United States, Detroit, and at St. John’s in these years, and I never could have imagined when I started what today would look like.  It is certainly an exciting adventure.
            2015 was a transition year.  As we began the year the negotiations with Olympia loomed over our heads, making us curious how changes would affect St. John’s.  What would the neighborhood look like?  What would be the financial implications of such a contract?  What about parking for Sundays and other parish needs?  If the parking garage is located behind the church, how do we improve the office building since that becomes our ‘front door’?  And with more people living in the immediate neighborhood how do we reach out to the community and incorporate them into the life of the parish?  The finalization of the contract at the end of July answered some questions, but has left others unanswered as we begin to move forward in the coming months and years.   With the same confidence that we depended upon the Holy Ghost to guide us through the negotiations, so too we are confident that He will guide us as we move forward in faith. 
            Speaking of God the Holy Ghost guiding us, I want to give thanks for the leadership of Bruce Burton, who is finishing his term as Senior Warden.  His strong, vision-filled leadership was invaluable in helping the Vestry focus on mission.  His insight into people and how to handle situations was a great aid and support in my day to day ministry.  And when Olympia approached us 18 months ago, Bruce was the right person in the right leadership position because of his decades of experience in negotiating large contracts, combined with a lifelong love of St. John’s and an understanding of her identity and mission. 
            Since last year we have been inconvenienced by the construction of new M-1 Rail being installed in front of St. John’s.  Street closures have provided an opportunity to explore the immediate neighborhood as we find the entrance to our parking lot.  God willing, they will be done with the rail installation and street reconstruction by April, and soon thereafter the new station shelter installed at the corner of Woodward and Montcalm.  This should mean full access to our parking lot from Montcalm and the Fisher Freeway Service Drive just in time (hopefully) for Olympia to begin the construction of their new garage at the back of the lot closest to John R. Street - we await their decision about when they may start.  Changes are happening in the neighborhood, but I promise we will do our best to make sure that good information is shared and that inconveniences are minimized.
            2015 saw the introduction of several new programs.  Thursdays at St. John’s has been put into effect with a regular bible study, The Marriage Course, and our monthly Cinema and the Spirit movie night.  Kudos to Joe Alff for responding to the prompting of the Spirit to begin and lead this program, and to Rod Gillespie for helping on site and providing a theatre-type popcorn machine.  Also a warm ‘Thanks be to God’ for Brian Campbell, Rich Kennedy, and Mike Fisher for their leadership and faithfulness for the bible study.  Chris and Kathy DeGiulio were a great aid in the coordination of The Marriage Course, and of course an expression of gratitude to John Gardner for coordinating all these Thursday events and myriad other programming and ministry opportunities in his 16 months with us at St. John’s.  John has announced that he is taking another position and will be leaving us, and we send him along with God’s blessings and warm affection.
            When I arrived at St. John’s Dave Schafer was chief cook and bottle washer when it came to being Treasurer.  As the parish grew Dave stepped into other roles in and out of the parish, and in the past 3 years Cathy Morgan and Cindy Grimwade did a laudable job as treasurer, but had to step back due to health (Cathy) and relocation (Cindy).  Once again Dave finds himself sharpening pencils, tapping the adding machine, and now aided by a professional accountant and book-keeper, has stepped back into the role as treasurer as well as helping in a variety of other ways as needed.  Thank you Dave for your willingness to serve as treasurer once again.  For those who do not know, Dave and his late wife Sharon share a 40+ year business and neighborhood relationship with my family, and it was they who connected me to St. John’s when the time appointed arrived for me to become Rector.
            Two more people I want to commend to you for their selfless service are Chris Golembiewski and Liz Oates.  Chris and Liz have been the stalwarts in coordinating the kitchen, and in particular coffee hour.  Every couple of years it is decided that coffee hour should be streamlined, more individuals involved in bearing the workload, and that Chris and Liz shouldn’t be depended upon for the yeoman’s share of responsibility.  That time to streamline and share responsibility is once again long overdue, and I hope that all of you will join me in not only thanking Chris and Liz for their good work, but also in signing up to host a coffee hour. Details on the new streamlined coffee hour will be coming soon and put into effect after our Lenten Soup Luncheons are finished. 
            The hazard with handing out ‘thank yous’ is that you always miss people.  I don’t want to forget to mention our weekday staff of Harriett, Shirl and Johny.  Nor do I want to miss Pat and his crew who keep the building clean and in good repair.  Huw and all those who make the music program shine with sublime splendor are to be commended.  Catharine Langmuir for her laudable service with the children's choir.  Virginia Burton and the Altar Guild as well as Michael Bennett and all those who serve at the altar deserve mentioning.  Sarah Babcock has been faithfully serving as treasurer for the Altar Guild for over 15 years.  Nancy Boulton and those who have taking an interest in the historic things of the parish help us to understand that our past is our prelude.  Fr. Bedford is the be thanked for his continuing faithfulness and service.  David Sharpe and the volunteers at our bi-weekly retirement home Mass in Plymouth are a vital help in that expanding ministry.  Debbie Swain and her tireless efforts on behalf of the bazaar, and once again taking lead of the St. Catherine’s Guild, should be something to rejoice about, as well as the spiritual engine room that is the Daughters of the King.  Oh wait… can’t forget the Sunday School volunteers and the interns.  And what about the members of the Vestry?  Can’t forget them!
            I hope that the list above drives home an important fact: ST. JOHN’S CHURCH HAS WONDERFUL PEOPLE!  And what we are able to accomplish is done by God’s grace and the outstanding efforts of so many.   But let me also say that by this time next year I would like that list to be three times as long!  It should be because we grow AND that more and more people will step forward and volunteer to help.  We can use new volunteers for already existing ministries, such as those mentioned above (coffee hour, altar guild, etc.) as well as those who sense that God the Holy Spirit is calling them to a new ministry such as the Cinema and the Spirit and our soon to be unveiled movable prayer request station.
            I recently had the opportunity to ‘eaves-drop’ on a conversation between a parishioner who has been here several years, with a newcomer couple.  All three of them are under 35 years old.  I knew that the established parishioner came to St. John’s because St. John’s is so deeply grounded in the ancient and eternal teaching of the church, and our liturgy expresses so well that fullness of faith.  The new couple expressed to him their attraction to St. John’s and it mirrored much of the same strengths in this parish that had attracted him.   For too long we have hid our light under the bushel.  This couple had been in the neighborhood six months before they discovered St. John’s, and now are not only excited to have found us, but are hungry to discover more about the faith that our music and liturgy expresses so well. This is Anglicanism at its best!  But our other challenge this year is two-fold: first we must ourselves learn this faith so that we can adequately understand it and explain it, and secondly we must get the word out about this wonderful place of faith and hope that God has planted on what was once an orchard on the corner of Woodward and High Street (now I-75).  This ‘spreading the word’ of who we are and who we serve (Jesus Christ) will be done through media, social media, and other public relations methods - but more importantly and more effectively it has to be done by those of us who already appreciate St. John’s and how we corporately express our love for Jesus Christ and one another.  We must learn the faith and share it.  To know Christ and make Him known is our parish motto.
            It will be faithfulness to Jesus Christ that will bring growth. Our glorious traditional Anglican Heritage positions us for growth according to those sociologists who study the generation that is moving back downtown into our neighborhood.  It is the timeless and eternal that intrigues and attracts those in their 20s and 30s (as is witness by those who have already found us), and it will be our love, fellowship, and faithfulness that will welcome and incorporate them into this parish.  Let us be the St. John’s that God founded us to be, and continues to call us to be, now and for generations to come – God willing.