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, February 24, 2015

First Sunday in Lent - Rector's Rambling for February 22, 2015

We welcome today our Diocesan Bishop, The Right Reverend Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr..  This is our ‘official visitation’, which occurs every three years.  We have been blessed to have him with us more frequently than every three years.

Bishop Gibbs was consecrated into the Episcopate February 5, 2000, and recently celebrated his 15th anniversary of that momentous occasion.  He was enthroned as diocesan in November of that same year.

Shortly after his taking the reins of the diocese I introduced myself with a phone call, asking to meet with him because I was interviewing here at St. John’s. We met the day I interviewed here. later that month. By grace it was obviously a good match, and the bishop assented to my election in January as Rector of St. John’s.  This weekend marks the 14th anniversary of my first Sunday at St. John’s. 

The bishop is the symbol of the unity of the Church, and even though today is the start of Lent and its emphasis on sin and repentance, the bishop’s presence reminds us that we are part of something larger (Diocese, National Church, Worldwide Anglican Communion) as well as something enduring since his apostolic succession connects him, and The Faith, back throughout time.

Welcome Bishop Gibbs!

Video of the Bishop's Visit to St. John's can be found at Our YouTube Channel

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

¶ This Collect is to be said every day in Lent, after the Collect appointed for the day, until Palm Sunday.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Quinquagesima Sunday means Lent is almost here! - Rector's Rambling for February 15, 2015

Beginning this week, things will be getting even busier around St. John’s!  Being Quinquagesima Sunday today, it means that mid-week Lent begins, and the additional devotions and disciplines take full effect.
Before the fasting begins, we do have one last feast with some frivolity.  On Tuesday evening, from 6:00 to 8:00 PM, we will be serving pancakes, sausage and ice cream as we celebrate Shrove Tuesday.  Additionally, we have a talent show, and all who attend are welcome to contribute with a song, a joke or two, dance, or a favorite poem.  Performing is not a requirement to attend dinner: we need people to be the audience as well!
On Wednesday Lent begins, and there are three opportunities for worship to make a right start of Lent, with the imposition of ashes: 12:15 and 6:00 PM Holy Communion, and 4:00 PM Evening Prayer.
Included in the Order of Service today are our two Lenten Brochures, outlining both how to keep a Holy Lent, and various opportunities offered here at St. John’s.  The extra weekday services start on Thursday with weekly Adoration of Christ in the Sacrament, and on Friday with an extra weekday Holy Communion Service as well as Stations of the Cross.  Educational opportunities include Adult Education, concluding Rich Kennedy’s class on The Great Commandment, and the beginning of a new class based on St. Francis DeSales Introduction to the Devout Life.
Our Sunday Lenten worship begins with our Diocesan Bishop making his official visit to the parish at the 10:00 AM Service.  It is my hope that we will have a 100% attendance day next Sunday to get Lent off to a good start, and to show the Bishop the wonderful blessing that St. John’s is becoming by God’s Grace.
Lent is a wonderful time to re-evaluate and re-set our spiritual life.  Take advantage of this opportunity!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Observance of an Holy Lent - a brochure for Lent 2015

1. Fasting  -  The weekdays of Lent are fast days, meaning that the amount of food is reduced.  A good (if modern) suggestion is no snacks, no seconds, no desserts, and no alcohol.  If you don’t normally eat snacks or drink, you may consider giving up some favorite food.  The idea is to undertake something sacrificial, yet not overwhelming.  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are strict fast days: one full meal in the evening, a very light one in the afternoon and for some nothing before 3pm.  Those who are ill, elderly, pregnant or nursing are excused from this discipline. (Page li, 1928 B.C.P.)

2. Abstinence - Abstaining from flesh meat on Fridays (as required by the Prayer Book) is a common discipline for Lent.  An ancient custom is to abstain from flesh meat on Wednesdays as well as Fridays.  Flesh meat includes all meat except fish.  Going vegetarian these days is also an option. (Page li, 1928 B.C.P.)

3. Holy Communion  - Lent is a good time to add a weekday Service to your usual Sunday attendance.  Weekday Services are about 30 minutes and are of a rather more intimate and quiet nature than those on Sunday.  The Wednesday Service also includes the Sacrament of Healing (Holy Unction). 

4. Daily Office  - If you do not now read Morning and/or Evening Prayer from the Prayer Book, Lent is a good time to begin doing so.  It takes some effort and discipline to get the habit established, but once accomplished, it can bear great fruit in your spiritual life.  Each Office takes 10-15 minutes a day.   Ask the Clergy if you need help in how to do it.

5. Spiritual Reading  - An ancient custom is to take a spiritual book for regular reading during Lent.  This can be a book on the Scriptures, or one of the spiritual classics.   Many are available in the parish library, and the clergy would be happy to make suggestions as well.

6. Confession  - A sacramental confession, in private to a priest, is not only an opportunity for a thorough self-examination, but also a powerful weapon against the temptations which come our way in Lent.   The Parish Clergy are available for this sacrament, as are other priests in the area.  Although the Anglican Communion does not require Sacramental Confession, it is permitted, and helpful.  More individuals should take advantage of this sacrament.

7.  Self-Denial  - You may want to give up some special pleasure or recreation for Lent (smoking, sweets, television), and perhaps give what you would have spent on it to charity.  This can be done in conjunction with other practices: if, for example, you give up an hour of TV every day, you might use it to read Evening Prayer and some Scripture. 
8. Service  - As well as “giving up” something in Lent, some wish to “take on” some special service, such as visiting a shut-in parishioner, volunteering at a hospital or nursing home, running errands for an elderly neighbor, or some special project at the church or in the community.

9. Scripture Reading  - Delving into the Word of God is never out of season.  Lent is a good time to establish (or re-establish) the discipline of a daily time of Scripture reading at home.  Using the lectionary (the appointed readings) for the daily office is a good starting point.

10. Educational Opportunities
Take the opportunity in Lent to join the Adult Ed. Class on Sundays at 9:05am or join a local bible study.

11. Corporate Special Devotions  - There are numerous opportunities for your spiritual growth throughout Lent.  In addition to Communion and Daily Offices, on Thursdays we have Adoration and Benediction, and on Fridays at noon the parish will gather at the Church for Stations of the Cross following Mass.   

12. Evangelism  - Lent is a good time to renew ones commitment to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with friends and neighbors, and to invite them to worship with us here at St. John’s.

Brochure originally written by the late Ann Marie Shuster,
and revised periodically  by Fr. Steven J. Kelly.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Counting down to Lent, Passion Sunday, and Easter Day - Rector's Rambling for February 8, 2015

Last week we began our Pre-Lenten season, known as the –gesima Sundays, from the endings of the three Sundays: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima.
The –gesimas are another way to count down the seasons heading toward Easter.  Following the calendar, we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday.  Although Lent is generally used to describe the entire time until Easter, in fact the season has sub-sets.  The Fifth Sunday in Lent is known as Passion Sunday.  This begins the time known as Passiontide, which runs officially until Maundy Thursday.  The time beginning with Palm Sunday (Sixth Sunday in Lent) is known as Holy Week.  The three days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday are known as The Sacrum Triduum (or three holy days).
Each of these periods of time sees changes to the liturgy and altars.  During the –gesimas we begin to see the service become more stark: the “Glory be to God on high” and “alleluia” disappear from the service and the purple vestments appear.  By Ash Wednesday the flowers are gone and the emphasis turns fully toward sin, repentance, and fasting.  During Passiontide the “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son…” disappears, and the crosses in the church and chapel are veiled.  The three holy days have their own particular unique liturgies assigned to them.
And by the way, those –gesima terms are Latin, letting you know how many full weeks there are until Passion Sunday (seven, six, and five).
One way to prepare for the coming of Lent is to think about what disciplines and devotions we are considering taking on.  What are we “giving up” for Lent?  This is not necessarily something that is bad for us (those should be given up anyway), but even something enjoyable and good that we use as both an offering and an opportunity remind ourselves that we have control (by His grace) over our bodily impulses.  Additionally, you should be thinking about what reading, charitable service, and devotions you hope to add during the Lenten season.
Pre-Lent has arrived, so let’s prepare for Lent, and for the celebration of the Resurrection (Easter).

Monday, February 02, 2015

Rector's Report to the Annual Parish Meeting - February 1, 2015

St. John’s has now completed her one hundred and fifty-fifth year of worship and ministry, and 2014 has not only been one of great grace and blessing, but will be marked in the annals of our history as one of the great benchmark years.  
          Over the course of St. John’s history several periods stand out as benchmarks.  Our founding in 1858, the opening of the chapel in 1859 and the opening of the church in 1861 marks a glorious start of this parish.  The 1880’s saw the first major cosmetic renovation of the church sanctuary as well as the building of our former parish hall building which for 90 years saw heavy use by community, diocese, and parish groups.   The 1890s brought a renovation of the church sanctuary to make it deeper, taller, and to contain our now famous altar reredos and supereredos.    The 1910s & 1920s saw the church neighborhood morph from residential to commercial, with the church beginning to be dwarfed by large buildings.  In 1936 and 1937 the church and chapel were moved, placed onto a new foundation, and steel beam reinforced during the widening of Woodward Avenue.  Having survived the depression years the church was called to service by hosting soldiers during WWII. The neighborhood began changing again with the growth of the suburbs, resulting in the degradation of the area immediately around our edifice in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  The decline began to reverse at the end of 1988 when the Fox Theatre reopened after it was renovated by the Ilitch family, who also moved their pizza empire headquarters into the Fox building.  The opening of Detroit Tigers Comerica Park in 2000 solidified the remaking of our neighborhood into a destination for sports and entertainment and began providing appreciable income through our parking lot.
          I am grateful to have come into the history of the parish at that point.  The renewal of the neighborhood provided opportunities to revitalize this grand old parish, which had seen a decline in attendance and membership since the 1920s: from a high of 2500 to an average of 45 people on Sunday just before I arrived.  By grace, average Sunday attendance is almost four times larger than what it was in 2000, income from pledges and other sources is up considerably, and after having had to use it out of necessity since the 1930s the parish has been able to not use the endowment for her operating expenses for the past two years. 
          This past year we have had glorious worship, opportunities for education, and have renewed the Sunday School program.   We’ve hired a minister to Young Adults, our fastest growing demographic in the parish.  After today’s election 1/3 of our parish vestry will be under 38 years of age, something I don’t think any other congregation of the diocese (other than the college missions) can claim. We now offer a  service at a nursing home in Plymouth which has become a wonderful opportunity for ministry.  10 people were baptized this year, 6 couples married, 7 people confirmed, and 4 buried.  Pledge income surpassed the budgeted expectation and was just .3% below last year’s record high amount.   I am most grateful for the generosity of the congregation, dedication and leadership of the wardens and vestry, and the daily diligence of the office staff and volunteers.  In particular, I want to commend Cathy Morgan for her dedication as treasurer of this parish as she underwent 6 months of chemotherapy.  And I also thank God for all the time and effort put in by the volunteers at the Altar, in the Sacristy, at the Narthex doors, in the Kitchen, and everywhere else people have pitched in to make their parish the wonderful place it is.
          And I would be remiss if I did not mention with sadness the death of two of our pillars in the parish, Mary Bedford and Barbara Frisby.  They are both greatly missed.
          But 2014 will be remembered most as the beginning of a new era through an opportunity with the Ilitch family’s Olympia Development.  At the end of July, with the public announcement for the building of the new hockey arena across the freeway from St. John’s, we also began a discussion with them about development plans closer to us, including the building of apartments on a portion of our property.  The vestry began these discussions, committees comprised of members of the vestry and others in the parish were formed, and the parish met twice (once informally in September for dinner, once formally for a vote in December) as negotiations progressed.   At one point over 30 people had been involved at some level in the committee discussions and negotiations to bring about a long term lease.  The terms of that lease are almost completed, and God willing its signing is imminent.  I particularly want to commend and thank our Senior Warden, Bruce Burton, for his business and negotiation acumen.  In consultation with both a real estate development and legal expert, Bruce and I went into the meetings with Olympia’s representatives well prepared.  Bruce was able to put very large dreams for the parish onto their radar, was patient when they wanted to move quickly, and negotiated those dreams into what is about to become a 49 to 99 year lease reality.
          At a vestry meeting in the Spring of 2001, my first year here, there was concern about money and the budget.  At that point I proclaimed, “there are no money problems we have today that can’t be solved by 100 more people in our pews.”  Then I continued, “of course, we will have new, different money problems then.”   Within a few years we had those new people, and as predicted, new problems as well.  Looking at the expected windfall of a new lease with Olympia Development, we once again have a new  ”money problem”.  Instead of the question of “how are we going to get more money to pay the bills?” we now have the problem of “how is God calling us to use these new funds to glorify Him and to be the parish He wants us to be?” 
The common thread for those early years, which we will now weave through solving this new “problem”, is that we put First Things First.   The First Thing is to put God first: Faithfulness, right doctrine, and desire to grow in holiness.  When we concentrate on those things, the money solution comes as a result of grateful hearts motivated by the Holy Spirit.   This has been the guiding principle for this parish during my tenure. The exception was a few years of the economic recession, when we got distracted and focused on the money.   We seemed to forget that if we are faithful, He is faithful.  We got back on track to First Things First in the past two years.
So now we move forward in a new era at St. John’s.  The faith and doctrine will not change, nor our adherence to traditional Anglican worship which precisely, and expansively, embodies both.  But our neighborhood will change, our ministries will expand and change as God leads us, and as the congregation grows it will be as exciting as it will perhaps be scary at times.  But grounded in a solid foundation we boldly go forward in faith!  God has, and will continue, to provide.

With the abundance of blessings God is bestowing upon us, we have to continue to put First Things First.  Now is not the time to rest on our laurels, become complacent, or think we no longer need to financially support the parish with our tithe and talent.   WE NEED to keep our hands to the plow and keep working toward the building up of the kingdom.  WE NEED to be generous in our giving to the parish; not because God needs it but because WE NEED to give as a spiritual discipline.  And we need to work together, avoiding negativity and other temptations that would prevent us from keeping focused on our mission.  And please, if you hear anything about this project, past or present, which is novel to you, or contradicts what has been published, please come to the Senior Warden and to me right away so that we can clear up any misinformation.

God has given us a goodly heritage and a hopeful future.  Let us respond in Faith, Hope, and Love, to His greater honor and glory.

Theology from Barney? - Rector's Rambling for February 1, 2015

“I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family….” 
If you are a parent of a young child, or a parent of children born in the 1990s or 2000s, you probably read those words above in a sing-song voice and a bit of nostalgia or repulsion.  That is the closing theme song of the PBS television show Barney and Friends.  On the first Sunday in Advent, and the first Sunday in Lent at my last parish (and since coming here the first Sunday in Pre-Lent) I look at myself in the mirror in my purple vestments and remember the child at St. Mary’s in Charleroi who told me that he really liked by church clothes today because I looked like Barney (he is a purple dinosaur).  I laughed then, since my oldest son Sam loved that show, and it is a fond memory now of those days, even if hearing the sound of the purple one singing  makes me a bit nauseous.
 But the words of the song above, in its simplicity, is the crux of the eternal gospel message.  God loves us, and we love him, and by that love (and of course baptism) we are a family.   The entire Christian Church is family, the Episcopal Church is family, the diocese is family, and St. John’s is immediate family.  If we put first things first (Faith in Jesus Christ and a desire to love Him) then disagreements can be looked at from the inside, as family. 
The song concludes, “with a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, won’t you say you love me too.”   It may not be the most theological of constructs, but if I have to look like Barney today, then why not think of Jesus’ message of love from Him to you, and your response?