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

Monday, November 30, 2015

Be prepared...He is coming! - Rector's Rambling for November 29, 2015

Advent and Lent share some similarities, both being penitential, “purple” seasons.  But they have differences as well.
Both seasons are about preparation.  In Lent we are preparing for the death and resurrection of Jesus by a season of fasting, penance, and examination and confession of our sinfulness.  Although this is a part of our spiritual life year round, it is magnified in Lent as we prepare to celebrate Easter.
In Advent the preparation is not only for the coming of the celebration of the birth of Jesus, but also His return in glorious majesty to judge the quick and the dead.  The penitential aspect is not just a self-denial (a fast) before the feast, but a realization that with Jesus’ return happening at any time He chooses, we need to be in a state of repentance at all times!  We need to learn to be prepared today, and perhaps there is no better time to be conscious of that than during the season of secular consumerism leading up to the Holy Day.
Like Lent, Advent is a good time to take on a few extra disciplines, like the lighting of the Advent wreath at home and taking opportunities for charitable work.  Praying the Daily Office at home (Morning and/or Evening Prayer) is a good discipline any time of the year!  And, of course, examining the state of one’s soul, and making a good confession of sin, is always in season.
Let us be prepared…  He is coming!

Discipleship - Rector's Rambling for November 22, 2015

One very important aspect of membership in the Church is what is known as Discipleship.  
The word disciple literally means one who follows.  We are disciples of Jesus Christ.  Although the word apostle is sometimes used as a synonym, apostle means one who is sent.  In the Bible the 12 apostles are also considered disciples of Jesus, but not all disciples are sent out as leaders. We are all called to be followers of Jesus Christ.
When we talk about discipleship in the Church we refer to our continued learning of The Faith, being equipped and built up for mission and ministry.  Baptism and Confirmation are beginning points, not an end point, in our learning.  We must continue to learn in order to be able to live the faith, and to share it. 
How do we do this?  Primarily we do it through worship.  The late Bishop Emrich said “In prayer and worship, which are the means of Grace by which God’s life comes to us, we become what we could not otherwise become.”  We are also transformed from the inside out by the Grace of the Blessed Sacrament and instructed by hearing Scripture read in worship, as well as expounded upon in the sermon.
But we have to take the opportunity to further our discipleship by learning the Scriptures through individual study as well as corporate study, such as we offer on Sunday at 9:05am and Thursday at 7pm.  One could also gather with other Christians in your local community to read and study scripture together. 
We also offer other opportunities such as the Alpha Course, movie discussions, and various Adult Education topics to help us to grow in the understanding of The Faith.  Take advantage of them.
In February we will introduce a new class called St. John’s 101.  A four week course, being developed for newcomers, I hope all current members will also attend so we have a common foundation.  I also hope that your suggestions will help me to firm up the syllabus so we can offer it 2 or 3 times a year as the parish grows.  We will look at What it means to be a Christian (always good to start with Jesus), The Bible (how do we know The Faith) The Prayer Book (how we worship), and St. John’s Past and Present. (history and mission)  This is intended to be a starting point to incorporate new members into our fellowship, and to start a lifelong zeal for learning about how to be a better follower of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"On Churchgoing" - a sermon by the 7th Rector of St. John's Church, on March 29, 1914

Below is excerpted from a sermon by Fr. Faber, Rector of St. John’s, preached on March 29th, 1914, called On Churchgoing.  It is as true, and as important to embrace today as it was over 100 years ago!  Fr. Faber points out that churchgoing is not about “getting” but about giving.  Rather than being primarily a ‘haven of rest for his soul’, he asserts…

“The Church is an Institution in the world whose business is to save mankind.  This institution is to gather men into a loyal fellowship of obedience to Christ and of service to the world.  It is to claim men under vows of lifelong and unreserved obligation to the Great Master.  It is to bring all human affairs and every human relation into submission to the Divine Law; it is to establish God’s Kingdom on earth.  It is to win through Love and Sacrifice.  It is to train up its members to more intelligent, more whole-hearted allegiance, to more perfect participation in this great campaign.  They need grace from above; it is entrusted with the means of grace, it offers them and ministers them.  It renews the loyalty of its members by its assemblies for worship; in them it re-devotes itself, every Lord’s Day – and oftener – to that loyalty.  The ‘Church service’ in its highest form is the common re-offering by the body of the faithful, of themselves, to the Lord of their Baptism, at he altar of the Eucharist or “Sacrifice of Thanksgiving”.
The member of the Church who understands what his Church membership means, goes to church to take part in that offering.  If I am a member of the Church, my place is at church at every due function of the Church, unless reasonably hindered.  I show disrespect to the Church, and to Christ Himself, and I take an attitude of delinquency and disloyalty toward my only voluntary assumed obligations, when I neglect her services.  Therefore an apostle could exhort Christians to renewed diligence in this respect: ‘Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together, as the manner of some is.’
(The Church’s) strength is in her loyalty.  For their failure in loyalty no outward thing may compensate: not the most splendid of buildings, not he most gifted of preachers, not the richest of rituals, not the most glorious music; not the soundest of financial provisions, not the most liberal of supporters, not the most numerous of congregations.  It all comes back to this: ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’”

Monday, November 16, 2015

A prayer for St. John's Church - Rector's Rambling for November 15, 2015

One-hundred-fifty-six years ago on Tuesday, November 17, the chapel of St. John’s was dedicated by the Bishop of the Diocese of Michigan, and officially began her offering of public worship on both Sundays and weekdays.
It is hard to imagine that this part of Detroit was “out in the country”, with this particular corner being an apple orchard when purchased, in April of 1858, by Henry Porter Baldwin, founder and patriarch of this parish.  Before he called together his neighbors in December to propose starting a new parish, he had purchased this land, and had commissioned plans for a chapel, a church, and a rectory.  When he invited that group of people into his home (then located where I-75 is now, across Woodward from the church), he already had plans and was looking for supporters for the project that came to fruition as St. John’s, of which we are inheritors.
The St. John’s Historical Committee has been busy going through the archives and setting up displays.  Recently they found a prayer for St. John’s Church, written by Fr. Faber, Rector of St. John’s from 1905 to 1914, which is as important today as it was 110 years ago!
Almighty God, who feedest Thy flock and callest Thine own by name, look down in mercy upon our parish, that we may be cleansed from all our sins, and serve Thee with a quiet mind.  Hallow and bless to us the sacraments and services of Thy Church.  Inspire our clergy to show forth Thy truth by their preaching and living, and daily to minister according to Thy will.  Keep our communicants in singleness of heart, from unbelief and worldliness, giving them grace, both in their homes and callings, faithfully to confess Thy Holy Name.  May all our children be taught of Thee.  Bring back all such as have erred, and draw to the cross those who are hardened by sin.  And, we beseech Thee, heal the sick; comfort the sorrowing; relieve the distressed.  Move Thy people to give as Thou hast given to them; fill the workers with the Spirit of power, of love, and of a sound mind; and while we plant and water do Thou give the continual increase, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Monday, November 09, 2015

"The minister is ordered, from time to time....." - Rector's Rambling for November 8, 2015

Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of All Saints, and then remembered all the faithful departed with series of Requiem Masses on All Souls’ Day on Monday.  Throughout the rest of the week the collect for All Saints’ Day is recited at the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Holy Communion.  It is a major Feast Day, so it has an octave (8 days) of commemoration.  To some it seems morose to speak about death and dying, but it is actually an opportunity to remember that no one escapes death, and that death is not the end of our being alive to, and with, God.  Because of the Resurrection from the dead of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our faith (by Grace) in him, earthly death is not the end!
Having said all that above, I would be remiss if I did not follow this admonition from the Book of Common Prayer:
The Minister is ordered, from time to time, to advise the People whilst they are in health, to make Wills arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, and, when of ability, to leave Bequests for religious and charitable uses.”
p. 320
Having a Will (or trust) relieves the family of unnecessary worry or concern about what goes where when you die.  Additionally, there can be a tax benefit in giving to the church or other charities in your estate planning.
But also, I would admonish you to make plans now for what you would like to have done with your mortal remains, as well as choices of hymns and type of Burial service you desire.  In the time of grief the family can be at ease knowing of your wishes in writing (and be sure that several family members have them).  Some people even pre-pay for their arrangements.
No one escapes earthly death.  The Good News is that Jesus Christ looks forward to welcoming you on the other side of the veil!

Monday, November 02, 2015

Not any reason that I shouldn't be one too! - Rector's Rambling for November 1, 2015 (All Saints Day)

And there’s not any reason – no, not the least – why I shouldn’t be one too.
Just reading those words puts a smile on my face as it brings to mind one of my favorite hymns, which we will sing this morning.  Published in 1929, it was placed in The Hymnal 1940 in the section titled “Hymns for Children”.  But it quickly became quite popular, and subsequent hymnals have placed in among the regular selections for All Saints’ Day.
It is in some ways a simple and childish hymn.  But it contains powerful truth.  The first stanza describes what makes someone a saint (patient, brave, true, toiled, fought for the Lord), the second that they loved the Lord and His love made them strong.  Both the first two stanzas go on to describe the variety of people who are saints (doctor, queen, shepherdess, soldier, priest, martyr).
But it is third stanza that drives home the point.  Saints are just long ago and far away!  “The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will”, and that you can meet all over, even “at tea”.  And most importantly, each stanza ends with an admonition that the singer should be aspiring to be a saint as well.  There isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t be saints.  And the goal is obtainable if we cooperate with God’s Grace to accomplish it.
As an English bishop once opined in the chapel at my seminary, “the reason we are not saints yet, is because we are not sure we want to be”.  May God grant us the desire to be saints, knowing He will also equip us for that transformation.
How popular is this hymn?  Our YouTube channel has 1035 videos that have been viewed over 850,000 times.  Nearly 50,000 of those views are the upload of a video of this hymn from All Saints’ Sunday in 2008.  The next most viewed video trails by 16,000 views.  Lots of folks, I hope, looking to be saints.