Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 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 160 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

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A weekday in the life of a downtown Anglo-Catholic Priest

So what does a weekday in the life of an Anglo-Catholic Priest, one in a downtown parish, look like. Well, they vary, obviously. Today has been very interesting already. After the early morning at home with Morning Prayer, Exercise, making breakfast for the family, etc., my "workday" began at 9am at someone's house making funeral arrangements for a parishioner dying of Pancratic Cancer. The couple doing the planning are not parishioners here, (the women with the cancer is) but have some connection to the parish 60 years ago when she was confirmed here. In addition to the talk of funeral arrangements, we also discuss St. John's then and now, as well as their current church membership.

After the meeting I drive down to the Church (about 20 minutes away), dash into the office long enough to put on my cassock, surplice, stole and biretta, and run across the street to the Fox Theatre. There, along with the neighboring Roman Priest, we bless the camels, sheep and donkey that will be in the Rockettes Christmas Show starting tonight and running until December 23rd. It is an opportunity for the show to get free PR (two TV stations were there, as well as several newspapers), and I get to do a little talk about St. Francis and the wonder of THE SON OF GOD becoming a child, born in a manger, for our salvation. (I am the priest closest to the camel - the other priest is Fr. Mark Borkowski of Sweetest Heart of Mary RC Parish www.sweetestheartofmary.org)

At 11am back into the office to return phone calls, answer emails, make appointments to see shut-ins, and to set up for Mass. After the 12:15pm Mass (an Advent Ferial Day), I will go (D.v.) and visit several shut-ins and if I have time I will run to Roll-Call at the local police precinct where I am a chaplain. The "workday" ends with Evening Prayer at 5pm in the Chapel.

Some days are busier, others not so much. Diocesan, Deanery, and various local foundation board and local ecumenical church meetings join the rota occasionally, as well as hospital calling. In the office there are bulletins to contribute to and go over, the newsletter to write (monthly and usually at home) and planning for upcoming events/services. Some counseling is done in the office, if not at the person's home. Occasionally there are evening responsibilities such as Vestry Meetings, Cathedral Chapter Meetings, and wedding preparation. While in the office we also have people who come to the door, what a priest in Philadelphia called Royal visitors "sent by the King", who have varying needs they are requesting aid for. All get prayed with and most referred to local agencies that can help. Those we can help directly (rides, paying for co-pay on prescriptions through an arrangement with a local pharmacy, etc) we do so without handing out cash, which we rarely have around the office anyway. Discernment in these cases between those in genuine need and those scamming or supporting a habit can be a tough task.

This life is busy and varied, but it is rarely dull! All to the Greater Glory of God!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Praying for our neighbors

Our Lord tells us that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, and one way of doing that is by praying for them. That is why St. John's has a banner on the Church that says "Pray Here for the Tigers and Lions", our neighboring sports team. It is an invitation to have people come to Church to "Pray Here".

Today we have a new neighbor (sort of). The Detroit Lions have fired head coach Steve Marriucci and hired Dick Jaruon (defensive coordinator/former Bears head coach) as interim coach. So we add him to our prayer list, as well as new Tiger coach Jim Leyland. We wish former coaches Alan Trammell and Steve Marriucci God speed.

Our prayers are for the the teams' general good, and ours...the better they are the busier our neighborhood is (fans, business, parking) and the more people we can reach out to and introduce to St. John's. It is amazing how many people know us as "The Church with the banner"

A Blessed Advent

As I listen to talk radio debate the greetings of "Happy Holidays" vs. "Merry Christmas" by store clerks, I want to call in and say that the correct answer is NEITHER. Christmas starts at the Eve on December 24th and goes to the Eve of Epiphany January 5th - those are the 12 Days of Christmas! We should wish each other a Blessed Advent! One priest I know from an email list responds to a wish of "Happy Holiday" with "thank you, for wishing me a happy St. _____'s Day (fill in the blank with the Saint of the Day). It is a good opening for a conversation about the Church Calendar - especially helpful if you are wearing a clerical collar!

Now we are in the penitential season of Advent. Not the 'heavy' penitence of Lent, yet it is still one of reflective preparation. We look at the "Already and Not Yet" - the already of the coming of Jesus' birth and the Not Yet of his "return in glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead" (Nicene Creed). In the liturgy we give up the grand processions, altar flowers, and singing the "Glory be to God on High". The altar hangings and vestments go back to purple (except Rose Sunday on December 11th) and we hear about the End Times and our Judgement, John the Baptist's calling us to repentence in preparation of Jesus' coming, and the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would bear in her body the Son of God, and her "fiat" - "be it unto me according to thy word".

Advent is a great time to put things in right order, and not be overwhelmed with the consumerism of the secular holiday madness that made it's official start after Thanksgiving (although one radio station in Detroit has been playing Christmas music since November 1st)!

O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel - and the whole world!
He has...and He will return again! Already and Not Yet....

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Exciting things in the last two weeks at St. John's

On November 20th we had a visit from Bishop Edward MacBurney, SSC, the retired Bishop of Quincy, Illinois. The Bishop celebrated and confirmed for Bishop Wendell Gibbs, our diocesan bishop.
Bishop MacBurney adopted me from another diocese in 1991 when I ran into the buzz-saw of 'too young. too traditional' of an East Coast Diocese. He also ordained me a transitional deacon three days before retiring.
15 people were confirmed, and three received into the Episcopal Church. Of the 15 Confirmed, 3 were adults who were baptised in the last 3 months!

Today is Thanksgiving. Here on Piety Hill that means only one thing - The Thanksgiving Day Parade. We had our liturgy for the holiday yesterday, and afterwards a sleep-over for those who wanted to stay (BYO Bedroll/air-mattress) and avoid having to drive down too early in the morning to get a parking space!
Part of the fun is that on Thursday we have a Pancake Breakfast in the Undercroft and also sell Hot Chocolate, Coffee, and Donuts out the front door. The parade passes in front of the Church, near the end of the route. The parish sets up scaffolding in the garden for parishioners and friends to view the parade, and perhaps most appreciated is that we open the Church for people to use the bathrooms and warm up
Warm-up was the operative word today. It snowed until about an hour before the parade arrived to the Church, and we had sustained winds of 30 miles per hour and gusts up to 50. Add this to high temps in the teens and you get a wind-chill of minus 10 degrees! It was bitter cold and attendance was down at the parade (and pancake and donut sales) considerably.
As the parade is ending Detroit Lions Fans are hustling past the Church to get to Ford Field (two blocks away) for the annual Thanksgiving Day Football Game (at which the Atlanta Falcons feasted upon the Lions 27-7). Overall, despite the bitter cold, it is always a fun day to invite friends and to invite cold parade-goers in to warm up and tour the Church.
Tomorrow (Friday) we do the turkey dinner at the Rectory....too chaotic on Thursday around here to do a proper meal!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Big news for Detroit City Episcopalians coming in February

Today, the Detroit Area Deanery Clericus met at St. John's. Present were 10 priests/deacons and the Bishop of the Diocese. After a light-hearted discussion about our various adventures negotiating the Detroit City Government and its various code inspectors, we began an ernest discussion about the parishes in the City. There are 17 parishes in the Detroit City proper. On any given Sunday just over 50% of the attendance in Churches in the City are at 3 of those 17 (which includes St. John's). If you include a fourth parish, that accounts for 2/3 of all Episcopalians in the city. Which means 1/3 is spread among the other 13 parishes.

A big meeting is planned for all Detroit City Parish clergy, vestry and laymembers in February to discuss/announce changes to how we do ministry in the City. The Bishop is holding his cards close to his pectoral cross, but one would guess that there will be an attempt at closings and consolidations. St. John's, having nearly quintupled its Sunday attendance in the past 5 years seems safe from closing or being consolidated. But many congregations, particularly the smaller ones tucked into residential neighborhoods without parking, endowments, or easy freeway access (for suburbanites to join in the worship and ministry), will find themselves in a further difficult position of paying for increased heating bills for sometimes fewer than 10 people in the pews on Sunday! Yet in these neighborhoods there are upwards of a dozen storefront Missionary Baptist and Church of God in Christ churches packed with people. Some try to blame the difference on music or liturgy, but could it be that we are doing THEOLOGY all wrong in attracting people from the neighborhoods into Church?