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

Thursday, August 31, 2017

First look at the proposed ministry annex renovation - Rector's Rambling for September 3, 2017

Downstairs in the undercroft are some renderings and blueprints for our renovation to the undercroft and ministry annex (commonly known as the ugly 1970 office addition).
The vestry and building committee have been working with the architecture firm of Hobbs and Black to help not only to cosmetically update the facilities, but to make them more flexible and usable for a variety of ministry uses for the parish and our revitalizing neighborhood.
Pictured above is a rendering of the renovated ministry annex.  Remembering that within a few years, God willing, a new apartment building will be constructed in our side parking lot, members and guests of St. John’s will primarily be parking in our new parking structure behind St. John’s.  Although our new handicapped entrance at the southwest narthex door will be available for use soon, eventually most people will enter the church directly from the garage through the rear of the building.  In essence this becomes our new “front door”.  The challenge is to redo the space to have an attractive central entrance flowing directly through it and toward the chapel and church, AND to make the space more user friendly for small groups, bible studies, 12-step meetings, and social gatherings, as well as space for clergy and staff to offer pastoral care and accomplish the many things that go on in preparation for our Sunday and Holy Day worship.

In the undercroft we are planning an update to the kitchen, the addition of a handicapped accessible family bathroom, upgrade to the nursery and its bathroom facility, and update to the space used for Sunday School and other meetings.  New  carpet, and other cosmetic updates will also be applied in this update.

The big question being asked is “WHEN?”, and our answer is a ambiguous “SOON”.  We are still in the planning stages and then specifications for the work to be done will have to be drawn up by the architects.  We will be hiring a construction manager to help us as we put out for bids to hire a contractor for the work to begin.  December would be the earliest to start the project, which coincides with Olympia completing their project within the parking garage.  We will take possession then of their construction trailer in the back corner of our lot to use as our temporary office space, saving us the cost of installing and removing the trailer (already paid for by Olympia).
The other question is about the timetable.  We want to do this work with as little disruption as possible to the life and ministry of the parish.
We will be doing the rear annex first.  This will allow us to take advantage of the discounted temporary trailer already installed in the lot for the office, and to continue to use the undercroft and nursery on Sundays and on weekdays.  After the annex is completed, a temporary nursery will be set up in the newly renovated space in the annex basement, and the Sunday School moved into that area as well.  As the space is now configured it is not suitable for either of these uses.  Also, the new 1st floor lobby of the annex will be used for a simple coffee hour and other social gatherings, a space not available at this time in the annex in it’s current configuration.  Although we will not have use of a full kitchen during the undercroft renovation, we will be able to move all other functions seamlessly into the newly renovated annex while the undercroft is renovated.  Worship will continue uninterrupted in the church and chapel.
If you have questions or suggestions, please feel free at any time to contact either me or our Senior Warden, Bruce Burton.
We look forward, God willing, to these improvements in the coming months.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Designing Detroit - Rector's Rambling for August 27, 2017

One of the books I am reading this summer has a connection to St. John’s, and I commend it to you.
Designing Detroit was published this year by Wayne State University Press, and is a fascinating read.  It is a biography about Detroit architect Wirt Rowland.
If you say the name Wirt Rowland to the casual Detroit architecture/history buff that name will most likely mean nothing.  But if you say Albert Kahn their eyes will light up with interest.  Yet many of the buildings attributed to Albert Kahn were designed by his company, Albert Kahn Associates, and in fact were designed by Wirt Rowland!  He also designed for famous Detroit firms/architects George Mason, Malcomson & Higginbotham, and for Smith, Hinchman & Grylls.
Some of the buildings primarily designed by Rowland include the Buhl Building, Penobscot Building, The Guardian Building, The Detroit News Building, and the original General Motors headquarters on Grand Boulevard.  He also designed dozens of schools, public utility buildings, and libraries.  He was self-educated in architecture and was described as a veracious reader, although he did take two classes at Harvard when he was 32 years old and had already been working in the business for over 10 years.

As far as churches go, he designed Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church (1926), and the original plans for Kirk in the Hills in Bloomfield Hills (1936), which were used after his death to complete it in 1958.  He was also an accomplished singer who sang professionally at Temple Beth El (now the Bonstelle Theatre) and Central Methodist next door to St. John’s.  He  performed with The Players men’s theatrical group, which is still in existence on Jefferson Avenue, and with The Tick Tack Club, an architect’s acting troop.
Our connection to Wirt Rowland is that he was the architect hired by the St. John’s Vestry to supervise the 1936 to 1937 move of St. John’s for the widening of Woodward Avenue.
Rowland proposed several different plans while the vestry haggled with the State of Michigan over the settlement to pay for the moving of our building.  One suggestion was to remove a section of the church, making it smaller and square, and moving back the façade, as did Central Methodist.  But when the settlement was reached there was enough money to move the entire chapel and church back 60 feet onto a new foundation.  Rowland supervised the deconstruction and re-construction of the bell tower, as well as the safety of the move itself.  Other tasks included rearranging the seating around the new steel beams now plastered to look like pillars to support the roof, installing new lighting because alternating current was finally available in the neighborhood, and the commissioning of a new altar and reredos in the chapel in memory of the Oziah Shipman family.
Author Michael G. Smith spent time doing research here at St. John’s, and I was pleased to share with him blueprints we had for a parish hall building never built by us, the plan’s existence unknown to Smith until that time.  He also read through our Vestry and Building Committee minutes from those years and the correspondence with Rowland that we had on file.
I have read through those minutes as well, and can assure you that the long-time deliberations and multiple plan changes we are experiencing in our renovation plans for the undercroft and office building are nothing new!  Our current office “box” on the back of the building is a much later, 1970, addition because we did not build Rowland’s plans in 1937.  I pray that we will be as inspired in our current plans as the parish, vestry, and architect were in 1935 to 1937 to build what is good, holy, beautiful and functional for the coming decades of ministry.
Even if you are not a history or architecture buff, I commend this book to you.  The book is available for sale on-line and at the Wayne State University’s bookstore.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A good king - Rector's Rambling for August 20, 2017

Mel Brooks, in his ridiculous comedy History of the World, Part 1, portrays  Louis XVI, King of France at the time of their revolution, as a power and affection hungry buffoon who repeats as almost a mantra the phrase, “It’s good to be the King.”
However, there was an extraordinary King of France in the person of King Louis IX, and in fact the Church recognizes him as a saint and heavenly patron of the Third Order Franciscans.
This Louis is described as follows in the Episcopal Church publication Lesser Feasts and Fasts: “Courageous and fearless in battle, patient and uncomplaining in adversity, he was an impartial, just, and compassionate sovereign.”
It is for his charitable works and care for the poor that he is most often admired.  After his release from captivity in battle, he took back to France 300 men who had been blinded by the Saracens and founded the first institute for the blind for their life-long care.  He founded theological schools (Sorbonne) and orphanages, and supported numerous religious institutions.
In his personal life he was extraordinarily disciplined in the practice of the faith.  Regular in the life of prayer and reception of Communion, he was also a penitent, offering personal sacrifices for his sins and the sins of others.  “Because of his determined effort to live a personal life of Franciscan poverty and self-denial in the midst of worldly power and splendor, he wore a hair shirt under his royal dress” [ed. uncomfortably scratchy, as a penance]. (Lesser Feasts and Fasts)
He died in 1270 at the age of 56 while on Crusade to rescue persecuted Christians in the East.  It was good for him to be the king.  August 25 is his Feast Day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Thoughts on St. Mary - Rector's Rambling AND Teaching Notes, August 13, 2017


On Tuesday, August 15, the Episcopal Church celebrates the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin.  The Roman Church celebrates on the same day The Feast of the Assumption of our Lady, and the Orthodox celebrate the Feast of the Dormition (or falling asleep) of Mary.  No matter what the title, it is a major Holy Day of the Church Universal.
Pictured above is the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham here at St. John’s.  It is located in the chapel, behind the grillwork and votive candle rack to the right of the altar.
St. Mary is an important part of the story of our Salvation.  It was her acquiescence to the Angel Gabriel’s announcement that set in motion Jesus’ Incarnation (taking flesh).  She was a dutiful mother and as a member of the original covenant helped to raise Jesus as keeper of God’s law.  She was present throughout his public ministry and one of a few of his followers who kept vigil at the foot of the cross where Jesus gave her to St. John for her keeping, and vice versa.  She was a witness of the Resurrection and present on Pentecost.  St. Mary was faithful from beginning to end of Jesus’ earthly life, and beyond.
On Tuesday we will remember all that and give thanks to God for her faithfulness.  And we will pray God to help us to be faithful like St. Mary.  Pray that we will be willing to follow Him, love Him, and do whatever He tells us (as St. Mary said to the servants at the Wedding Feast at Cana).

And just as we might ask our loved ones, fellow parishioners, or priest to pray for us in the time of trial and need, so too we ask St. Mary to pray for us to her Son Jesus Christ.  Just as we are concerned for each other in Love, so too St. Mary desires to pray for us to her Son that we may fully know His Love for us.

The Episcopal Church has had a hot and cold relationship with devotion to our Lord with His mother St. Mary.  Depending on one’s churchmanship (Low Church Protestant on one end, High Church Anglo-catholic on the other) your interest in having St. Mary participate in an Episcopalian’s life of prayer will vary.
The Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, available from Amazon.com, the complete text of which is found on The Episcopal Church’s official Web page, says about this prayer:
[The Hail Mary is a] Prayer addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The first two of its three parts are drawn from the salutation of the Archangel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Lk 1:28, RSV); and Elizabeth’s words to Mary at the Visitation, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Lk 1:42, RSV).  These verses have been used as a single formula in Christian liturgy since the sixth century.  They were used in the antiphonary in the seventh century as an offertory text for the feast of the Annunciation, for the Ember Wednesday of Advent, and for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.  The two verses were a popular devotion by the eleventh century.  The third part of the Hail Mary is the concluding petition, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Amen.”  Various concluding prayers for this devotion were added in the fifteenth century.  The concluding petition in its present form has been dated from the sixteenth century.  The Hail Mary is also known as the Angelic Salutation.  Its Latin form is Ave Maria.  The Hail Mary is used in other Christian devotions, such as the Angelus and the Rosary.
The first part of the prayer is a statement from the Scripture about who St. Mary is, and the second half our request that St. Mary pray for us.
Much about St. Mary is biblical and therefore required for belief, such as the Virgin Conception and Virgin Birth.  But asking St. Mary to pray for you is not required for salvation.  If it helps you to grow closer to Jesus then the Hail Mary is available to you.  If not, then find something that does.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Transfiguration on Sunday - Rector's Rambling for August 6, 2017

Last week we got a chance to have a special celebration by having our Founders’ Day.  This week it is the Church Calendar that gives us the opportunity to have a special celebration.
August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration, and because it falls on a Sunday this year, we get to celebrate it instead of the 8th Sunday after Trinity.  All Feasts of Our Lord have “Precedence” over most regularly appointed Sundays, such as Sundays after Trinity.  If you want to see which special days have priority then you can turn to pages l and li in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer for the Tables and Rules for the Movable and Immovable Feasts.
In June of 1993 I stood on the “high mountain” that tradition says is the location of today’s biblical event.  It is Mount Tabor – overlooking the plain and mound of Megiddo (supposed to be the location of the last apocalyptic battle – Armageddon comes from Har (mound) Megiddo.  Across the valley is the town of Nazareth where Jesus was raised, and from whose precipice Jesus was threatened to be thrown after reading the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah in the scrolls of the prophet Isaiah, and proclaiming it fulfilled in their hearing.
On the top of Mount Tabor is a lovely 1920s church that replaced a destroyed 12th century Crusader-built church built over the ruins of a destroyed 4th century Byzantine church.  But it is around back, in the gardens, that one gets a sense of what it may have been like in Jesus’ time, to see Him as His divinity shined through his human flesh.  Jesus is alone with the core group of disciples who get a glimpse of what has been called a pre-Resurrection Resurrection appearance.  Even if Peter gets it wrong (again) they did figure out eventually that it is Jesus alone who is worthy of worship, and we do today.