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, January 30, 2017

Rector's Report to the Annual Parish Meeting - January 29, 2017

Yesterday I led the burial office at a funeral home in Fenton for my wife’s aunt.  She wasn’t a parishioner, but I was happy to be of help to the family as they gathered together to mourn Sally’s death, celebrate her life, and to thank God that she has ‘gone home’ to her heavenly Father.  We also were comforted at the thought that she was with Arnie whom she yearned to see, her beloved husband, who died 10 years earlier after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
            The Burial Office is a gem of the Book of Common Prayer.  Although it is preferable to have a Requiem Mass at the Church, the Burial Office, with its cadence of psalms, readings and prayers, speaks of the hope of the Resurrection and the doctrine of the Church in a beautiful form for ‘common’ use.
            And as happens at all burials, whether at St. John’s or at a funeral home, I hear again and again a litany of praise for the beauty of the service and its power to speak of hope and comfort.
And as I always respond to the compliments, the great thing about being an
Episcopalian is that it is all in the Prayer Book, and if we believe what we are saying it comes through by grace.
            Next month I complete my 16th year as the rector of St. John’s.  I continue to thank God for bringing me here and blessing me to continue in this portion of His vineyard.  I never could have imagined what life would be like over these many years here, its ups and down.  But I am grateful to have gone through these years with you and ministering to you.
            Life is full of changes.  We age, marry, give birth, and die.  Buildings come down and buildings go up or are renovated.  And peoples’ attitudes change as well.  Some change is most welcome and for good, and other change is damaging and should be avoided. 
We know physical change around St. John’s!  The M1 Rail and new parking structure will be operational (we are told) by April.  Construction begins in the spring on our drop off area behind the office, and the narthex garden entrance will be re-graded and made handicapped accessible.  And, God willing, by summer or fall we will begin the changes to the undercroft, the kitchen, and the office building.  Physical change is all around. 
And as the changes to the neighborhood continue, we as a parish continue to evaluate needed changes and ministry opportunities.  Already we have not only begun to expand our reach to local ministries through the work of the Outreach Committee, but continue to open our doors to various neighborhood groups to use our building to build community and respond to needs.  These are exciting changes.  And we also are working to develop programing to appeal to both our current parishioners as well as those who are moving into the neighborhood.  And in the next months we will be hopefully adding staffing, thoroughly Anglican, to respond to these opportunities as well as create them.
But as I began this musing, even though many things change, there is a wonderful changelessness to the faith, and especially as it has been codified and entrusted to us as Anglicans.  It is a changelessness that is grounded in Scripture, and one which has survived 158 years of change to our neighborhood, at one time known as Piety Hill.  Please note that of the 7 houses of worship that made up this neighborhood only St. John’s and Central Methodist remain as churches.  As the Jews moved from the neighborhood the Synagogue became a series of churches and eventually became the Bonstelle theatre.   The Unitarians merged with the Universalists at Wayne State and the building used by a series of local churches until it was abandoned and burned a few years ago.  The Presbyterians tried adapting to the changes in the neighborhood and closed shop long ago, the building is now an ecumenical seminary.  The Baptist church across from the freeway became local and then abandoned and eventual burned.  The original Roman Cathedral was in Brush Park and was sold to the city and eventually burned. 
As I have researched these former churches, I read of the times where they were told to ‘change, change, change’ to adopt to the culture, but they did so to their faith and heritage, and now the buildings are no longer houses of worship.  St. John’s persevered in the faith and worship of the historic church, and she not only survives but attendance continues to be more than four times the size it was in the 1990s, and is now poised for explosive growth as upwards of 4000 new housing units are slated to be built in the next 5 to 10 years.  And by standing firm and faithful, once again we are seeing a new generation yearning for that which is eternal and meaningful – traditional Anglicanism at its core.
We as members are called to continue to worship, to continue to learn, and continue to reach out and look for ways to being more and more people into the practice of the faith with us here at St. John’s.  The faith won’t change, and the worship won’t change.  But how we reach others, incorporate them into our fellowship, and witness to the neighborhood and the world will be our challenge in the coming year.  Remember, the good thing about being Episcopalians (Traditional Anglicans) is that it is all in the Prayer Book, and if we believe what we are saying (and praying) it comes through by grace.

            I look forward, God willing, to a wonderful 17th year together.