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.

My Photo
Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lent as a great time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament - Rector's Rambling for February 21, 2016

Attendance at all three Ash Wednesday Services was good.  Thursdays at St. John’s has started, and Friday Stations and Benediction has also started, and usually picks up as Lent moves on.  And I hope that you have been keeping your Lenten Fast.
As much as we may focus on the fasting and sacrifice disciplines in Lent, not only abstinence from flesh meat on Fridays, but also the sacrifice of “giving something up for Lent”, our Lenten devotion at St. John’s is deeply grounded in something that is eaten, The Holy Communion.
Although we have the service of Benediction after the Thursday Communion Service all year long, during Lent we add weekly adoration time on Thursday, an extra celebration of the Holy Communion on Friday, and Benediction after the Stations of the Cross.  One of the greatest privileges of being a priest is the grace to say Mass, and it is a glorious privilege of every baptized Christian to receive the Blessed Sacrament daily if so desired.
There is no more efficacious way for us to interact with Jesus Christ than in the Blessed Sacrament.  Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.”  (John 6:53–56)
Being regular about eating His flesh and drinking His Blood at Mass, we also take time to adore Him in His Sacramental presence with silent meditation before Him, and in worship through the hymns of the Benediction Service.  It is a good discipline for Lent, and a blessing all year long.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Happy Lent - Rector's Rambling for February 14, 2016

Last week I saw a t-shirt for sale that said “have a miserable Lent”.  I chuckled and shared it on my Facebook wall, but with the caveat that I think quite the opposite.  I want people to have a “happy” Lent, and in fact have wished people just that.
It sounds like an oxymoron – “happy” and “Lent”, but if we remember that the word for happy comes from the same root word in Koine (biblical) Greek as “blessed”, then it certainly is the right greeting!
Lent is a great blessing, even if it is hard and time consuming.  It is supposed to be.  But even more so, it is an opportunity for us to be honest with ourselves about the state of our souls so that we can make inroads toward true blessedness.  True blessedness leads to holiness.  Lent is only miserable because sin doesn’t want us to let go of our habits, and also doesn’t like to be disciplined.  But knowing that it is good for us, and is making us better, can help us go into it and through it with a good attitude.
Please take advantage of the many extra opportunities at St. John’s this Lent, especially our Thursday evenings and Friday lunchtime offerings.  Additionally, much of the Lenten discipline done by you in the secret of our house and heart.  Be sure to refer to our brochure “The Observance of an Holy Lent”.
Of course most people know that today is also St. Valentine’s Day.  Although “Saint” has mostly been dropped from the title by the secular forces who see it as a commercial opportunity, it is based on a Holy Day dedicated in memory of one of the saints.  St. Valentine was a priest who was martyred in the 3rd century in Rome.  His crime, legend says, was performing marriages for Christian couples and helping those who were being persecuted under the Emperor Claudius.  Once imprisoned he inflamed the situation by trying to convert the emperor!  He was beaten, stoned, and eventually beheaded.  The majority of his relics now rest in the Church of St. Praxedes in Rome.
Beaten, stoned, and beheaded for faith in Jesus is hardly a secular selling point for merchants in mid-February, but it is the heart of our identity in Christ as members of His Body, the Church.
Let us be serious about the training of our hearts and souls this Lent, that we may become the saints that Jesus wants us to be!

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Keeping an Holy Lent: Suggested Disciplines and Devotions

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 Thursday evening for bible study and class

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 08, 2016

Quinquagesima Sunday - Rector's Rambling for February 7, 2016

Thank you to all those who attended the Annual Parish Meeting last week at St. John’s.  The financial reports and budget were received, and new members of the Vestry elected.  The 157th year of St. John’s is now underway.  Copies of the Annual Parish Meeting booklet are available in the parish office, and my Rector’s Report is also available on my blog, which can be found at
Lent starts this week, and I can’t stress strongly enough how important it is that you get Lent off to a good start!  We gather for fun and frivolity Shrove Tuesday night, at the Pancake Supper and Talent Show, as a last “hurrah” before the fasting and penitence begin.  We gather from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM, with the Talent Show starting about 7:00 PM.  All types of talents are welcome: sing, dance, play an instrument, or read a poem or original composition.  Surprise us with something fun!
Then we begin Lent in earnest on Ash Wednesday, February 10.  At noon and 6:00 PM we have Holy Communion with the Imposition of Ashes as a sign of our mortal nature, and at 4:00 PM we will have Evening Prayer with the Penitential Litany and Imposition of Ashes.
THURSDAY!  THURSDAY!  THURSDAY!  (Hopefully you read that with a big voice, like a Monster Truck Rally commercial).  I hope that you will make THURSDAY a night that you plan on being at St. John’s!  At 6:00 PM we will gather in the chapel for one of the Instructive Offices in the Prayer Book.  Most of these are about 20 minutes long, and not often used.  It will be a great chance for us to explore our wonderful prayer book and learn something new, or learn it again.  By 6:30 PM we will gather in the undercroft for a simple soup supper, and then, at 7:00 PM, we will offer both a Bible Study and the new introductory course St. John’s 101.  Newcomers, curiosity-seekers, and long-timers are most welcome as we roll out this course and refine it for the coming years.  Come for all three events that night, or whichever combination you want/need.
Celebrations of the Holy Communion, Evening Prayer, and  the Friday noon devotion Stations of the Cross also occur during week.  Please make an effort to attend things for your own good, as well as an encouragement to others who are blessed by your presence – encouraged by having others praying and learning with us!

Monday, February 01, 2016

Rector's Report to the 156th Annual Parish Meeting - January 31, 2016

            As I finish my 15th year as the Rector of St. John’s I give thanks once again for the great grace of being the priest here in this portion of His vineyard.  So much has changed in the United States, Detroit, and at St. John’s in these years, and I never could have imagined when I started what today would look like.  It is certainly an exciting adventure.
            2015 was a transition year.  As we began the year the negotiations with Olympia loomed over our heads, making us curious how changes would affect St. John’s.  What would the neighborhood look like?  What would be the financial implications of such a contract?  What about parking for Sundays and other parish needs?  If the parking garage is located behind the church, how do we improve the office building since that becomes our ‘front door’?  And with more people living in the immediate neighborhood how do we reach out to the community and incorporate them into the life of the parish?  The finalization of the contract at the end of July answered some questions, but has left others unanswered as we begin to move forward in the coming months and years.   With the same confidence that we depended upon the Holy Ghost to guide us through the negotiations, so too we are confident that He will guide us as we move forward in faith. 
            Speaking of God the Holy Ghost guiding us, I want to give thanks for the leadership of Bruce Burton, who is finishing his term as Senior Warden.  His strong, vision-filled leadership was invaluable in helping the Vestry focus on mission.  His insight into people and how to handle situations was a great aid and support in my day to day ministry.  And when Olympia approached us 18 months ago, Bruce was the right person in the right leadership position because of his decades of experience in negotiating large contracts, combined with a lifelong love of St. John’s and an understanding of her identity and mission. 
            Since last year we have been inconvenienced by the construction of new M-1 Rail being installed in front of St. John’s.  Street closures have provided an opportunity to explore the immediate neighborhood as we find the entrance to our parking lot.  God willing, they will be done with the rail installation and street reconstruction by April, and soon thereafter the new station shelter installed at the corner of Woodward and Montcalm.  This should mean full access to our parking lot from Montcalm and the Fisher Freeway Service Drive just in time (hopefully) for Olympia to begin the construction of their new garage at the back of the lot closest to John R. Street - we await their decision about when they may start.  Changes are happening in the neighborhood, but I promise we will do our best to make sure that good information is shared and that inconveniences are minimized.
            2015 saw the introduction of several new programs.  Thursdays at St. John’s has been put into effect with a regular bible study, The Marriage Course, and our monthly Cinema and the Spirit movie night.  Kudos to Joe Alff for responding to the prompting of the Spirit to begin and lead this program, and to Rod Gillespie for helping on site and providing a theatre-type popcorn machine.  Also a warm ‘Thanks be to God’ for Brian Campbell, Rich Kennedy, and Mike Fisher for their leadership and faithfulness for the bible study.  Chris and Kathy DeGiulio were a great aid in the coordination of The Marriage Course, and of course an expression of gratitude to John Gardner for coordinating all these Thursday events and myriad other programming and ministry opportunities in his 16 months with us at St. John’s.  John has announced that he is taking another position and will be leaving us, and we send him along with God’s blessings and warm affection.
            When I arrived at St. John’s Dave Schafer was chief cook and bottle washer when it came to being Treasurer.  As the parish grew Dave stepped into other roles in and out of the parish, and in the past 3 years Cathy Morgan and Cindy Grimwade did a laudable job as treasurer, but had to step back due to health (Cathy) and relocation (Cindy).  Once again Dave finds himself sharpening pencils, tapping the adding machine, and now aided by a professional accountant and book-keeper, has stepped back into the role as treasurer as well as helping in a variety of other ways as needed.  Thank you Dave for your willingness to serve as treasurer once again.  For those who do not know, Dave and his late wife Sharon share a 40+ year business and neighborhood relationship with my family, and it was they who connected me to St. John’s when the time appointed arrived for me to become Rector.
            Two more people I want to commend to you for their selfless service are Chris Golembiewski and Liz Oates.  Chris and Liz have been the stalwarts in coordinating the kitchen, and in particular coffee hour.  Every couple of years it is decided that coffee hour should be streamlined, more individuals involved in bearing the workload, and that Chris and Liz shouldn’t be depended upon for the yeoman’s share of responsibility.  That time to streamline and share responsibility is once again long overdue, and I hope that all of you will join me in not only thanking Chris and Liz for their good work, but also in signing up to host a coffee hour. Details on the new streamlined coffee hour will be coming soon and put into effect after our Lenten Soup Luncheons are finished. 
            The hazard with handing out ‘thank yous’ is that you always miss people.  I don’t want to forget to mention our weekday staff of Harriett, Shirl and Johny.  Nor do I want to miss Pat and his crew who keep the building clean and in good repair.  Huw and all those who make the music program shine with sublime splendor are to be commended.  Catharine Langmuir for her laudable service with the children's choir.  Virginia Burton and the Altar Guild as well as Michael Bennett and all those who serve at the altar deserve mentioning.  Sarah Babcock has been faithfully serving as treasurer for the Altar Guild for over 15 years.  Nancy Boulton and those who have taking an interest in the historic things of the parish help us to understand that our past is our prelude.  Fr. Bedford is the be thanked for his continuing faithfulness and service.  David Sharpe and the volunteers at our bi-weekly retirement home Mass in Plymouth are a vital help in that expanding ministry.  Debbie Swain and her tireless efforts on behalf of the bazaar, and once again taking lead of the St. Catherine’s Guild, should be something to rejoice about, as well as the spiritual engine room that is the Daughters of the King.  Oh wait… can’t forget the Sunday School volunteers and the interns.  And what about the members of the Vestry?  Can’t forget them!
            I hope that the list above drives home an important fact: ST. JOHN’S CHURCH HAS WONDERFUL PEOPLE!  And what we are able to accomplish is done by God’s grace and the outstanding efforts of so many.   But let me also say that by this time next year I would like that list to be three times as long!  It should be because we grow AND that more and more people will step forward and volunteer to help.  We can use new volunteers for already existing ministries, such as those mentioned above (coffee hour, altar guild, etc.) as well as those who sense that God the Holy Spirit is calling them to a new ministry such as the Cinema and the Spirit and our soon to be unveiled movable prayer request station.
            I recently had the opportunity to ‘eaves-drop’ on a conversation between a parishioner who has been here several years, with a newcomer couple.  All three of them are under 35 years old.  I knew that the established parishioner came to St. John’s because St. John’s is so deeply grounded in the ancient and eternal teaching of the church, and our liturgy expresses so well that fullness of faith.  The new couple expressed to him their attraction to St. John’s and it mirrored much of the same strengths in this parish that had attracted him.   For too long we have hid our light under the bushel.  This couple had been in the neighborhood six months before they discovered St. John’s, and now are not only excited to have found us, but are hungry to discover more about the faith that our music and liturgy expresses so well. This is Anglicanism at its best!  But our other challenge this year is two-fold: first we must ourselves learn this faith so that we can adequately understand it and explain it, and secondly we must get the word out about this wonderful place of faith and hope that God has planted on what was once an orchard on the corner of Woodward and High Street (now I-75).  This ‘spreading the word’ of who we are and who we serve (Jesus Christ) will be done through media, social media, and other public relations methods - but more importantly and more effectively it has to be done by those of us who already appreciate St. John’s and how we corporately express our love for Jesus Christ and one another.  We must learn the faith and share it.  To know Christ and make Him known is our parish motto.
            It will be faithfulness to Jesus Christ that will bring growth. Our glorious traditional Anglican Heritage positions us for growth according to those sociologists who study the generation that is moving back downtown into our neighborhood.  It is the timeless and eternal that intrigues and attracts those in their 20s and 30s (as is witness by those who have already found us), and it will be our love, fellowship, and faithfulness that will welcome and incorporate them into this parish.  Let us be the St. John’s that God founded us to be, and continues to call us to be, now and for generations to come – God willing.


Annual Parish Meeting time - Rector's Rambling for January 31, 2016

Today is the Annual Parish Meeting for St. John’s Church.  The Teaching Note on page 4 explains in brief detail the polity of the Episcopal Church.  From General Convention every three years, through Diocesan Convention and polity, through to the parishes, the Episcopal Church has a system of governance in place to encourage and support the mission of the Church.  Today is the day we gather after the 10:00 AM service to look at the financial position of the parish by year end 2015, the budget for 2016, and to receive reports of the various committees and ministries at St. John’s.  Additionally, we will be electing four new members of the Vestry since the terms of 1/3 of the Vestry expire every three years.  This year we thank Sarah Babcock, Bruce Burton, Cindy Grimwade and Debbie Swain for their leadership and service as their terms have come to an end, and elect four new members to continue that good work.
St. John’s is in the midst of a remarkable, positive transition as the neighborhood around us is being transformed, and I hope that parishioners will join us downstairs after the 10:00 AM service to hear some of our hopes and aspirations.
Also published today as an insert is the programming and devotions for Lent.  This Pre-Lenten, –gesima season of preparation is the time to make sure you are participating on Sundays, and in as many of the weekday programs/devotions as possible.  Your attendance is good for you AND good for the parish, because you become better equipped, and your presence will encourage others attending as well.
This past week John Gardner announced that he is taking a new position and will be leaving St. John’s.  We wish him well as he embarks to minister in another portion of our Lord’s vineyard, and give thanks to God for his time on our staff.
God continues to do remarkable things to and through St. John’s Church, and for that we respond with gratitude and love.