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

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thankfulness - Rector's Rambling for November 25, 2018

We have a lot to be grateful for at St. John’s Church.  On Thursday we celebrated the National Holiday of Thanksgiving, but as people who follow Jesus Christ, we are to be thankful people all the time.  It is an attitude of gratitude.
I recently had a discussion with a parishioner going through several health challenges, and she mentioned she was starting to identify more closely with Job than any other person in Scripture.  It has been one thing after another in the past year for her.  But as we continued our conversation, we were able to turn toward some positive things that have been going on in her life, and before long, the room seemed to lighten up.  Yes, her woes were still real and present, but she also came to realize that in fact she was the beneficiary of many blessings as well in her time of trial.
Another parishioner witnessed in his recovery from a bad fall that he sensed the power of God’s presence and prayers received in a tangible way because his accident caused him to slow down, listen, and pay attention.  Although he certainly doesn’t want to repeat the fall, nor do we think God pushed him off the ladder to get his attention, good did come from his time recovering from his accident.
Gratitude is a powerful weapon against malaise and non-clinical depression.  It is all too easy for us to get caught up in our “woe-is-me” attitude, and lose sight of the many other ways that God is active and at work in our lives.  The old children’s hymn, “Count your blessings, count them one by one” certainly does apply here.
Christianity is not about the power of positive thinking, nor is it Pollyanna-ish in ignoring hard times and painful things.  But mixed in with having to take up our cross to follow Jesus is the assurance that he takes our yoke upon himself as well, and, in fact, He has shouldered the heavier burden by paying the price for our sins.
Thanksgiving, for us, is all year long.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

"insider" Episcopalian stuff - Rector's Rambling for November 18, 2018

Today we have an interesting mix.  Although we are still in Trinitytide, the Sundays after Trinity, we are doing the readings today for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany.  Why?
Remember that we have a church calendar based on a lunar cycle, just as the ancient Hebrews did as well.  Although Feasts like Christmas are on a set date (December 25), the Feast of the Resurrection, better known as Easter, is set by a formula based on the lunar calendar.  The section of the Prayer Book about the calendar says this:
EASTER DAY, on which the rest depend, is always the First Sunday after the Full Moon, which happens upon or next after the Twenty-first Day of March; and if the Full Moon happen upon a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday after.
But Note, That the Full Moon, for the purposes of these Rules and Tables, is the Fourteenth Day of a Lunar Month, reckoned according to an ancient Ecclesiastical computation, and not the real or Astronomical Full Moon. (p. l)
And if you find that confusing, try reading on page lii how to find the date of Easter using the Golden Number, a confusing 4 paragraphs which is now basically superseded by asking Siri, “What date is Easter next year?” or typing it into Google.
Because Easter was relatively early this year, we have run out of readings appointed for Sundays in Trinitytide.  There are only 25 and the last one is always the Sunday next before Advent.  But because Easter was early, it means the –gesima (Pre-Lenten) Sundays started early, and therefore we had lessons not used back in February.  Ta Dah!  That is why the lessons appointed for today are from the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany.  In fact, it says so on page 224 in the Prayer Book:
If in any year there be twenty-six Sundays after Trinity, the service for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany shall be used on the Twenty-fifth Sunday.
I am grateful for the worship set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The lust for power and possessions - Rector's Rambling for November 11, 2018

One hundred years ago today this was the scene at Campus Martius on Woodward Avenue (where now is located a park and ice skating rink), when throngs of people poured into the streets to celebrate the end of the “war to end all wars”.
World War I was a most horrific event.  The entire European Continent was embroiled in conflict, as Britain, France, Italian, and Russian Allies fought off the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman Turkish Axis powers.  The United States would join in the last year of fighting, but the Russians withdrew because of their own devastating Bolshevik revolution.
When Armistice Day finally arrived on November 11, 1918, over sixteen million citizens and soldiers were among the dead.  Such mechanical “advances” as the airplane, armored vehicle, and reliable machine gun, combined with the devastating concept of trench warfare, made for a most deadly and destructive form of combat.  By 1918 the world was weary and ready to work (or so it seemed at the time) to prevent such a thing from ever happening again.
The failed League of Nations (a precursor organization to the United Nations), and onerous war reparations imposed by the victors, caused economic disaster and fermented the rise of both Communist and National Socialist movements that then led to the dictatorships which took us back into world-wide war 21 years later.
But ultimately, war has, at it’s root, the sinful lust for power and possessions.  St. James wrote, From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?  Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.  Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. (James 4:1–3)
True for individuals, and true for nations.  May God help us all.

Monday, November 05, 2018

The Great Equalizer - Rector's Rambling for November 4, 2018

It is the time of the year that we think about death.  On November 1, and again today, we celebrate the lives of the saints, those holy women and men who glorified God in their earthly lives, died, and now are with Jesus in heaven.  On November 2, we celebrated a special Requiem Mass in the Chapel of Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, the resting place of the earthly remains of the overwhelming majority of our parishioners who died in the first 70 years of our parish history.  On All Souls’ Day we remember all the faithful departed, including our own loved ones.
Shortly after I arrived at St. John’s, we received a bill for plot upkeep from Elmwood.  No one in the office knew why.  Stopped by the cemetery and discovered that the plot for our first Rector, William Armitage, was entrusted to our care by the last living relative in the 1980s.  I also then discovered the monument to our parish founder, Henry Porter Baldwin (pictured here).  Since then I have become a member of the Historic Elmwood Cemetery Foundation which develops educational projects such as history tours, establishing the property as an arboretum, and restoring things such as the chapel (designed and built by the same firm that designed and built St. John’s).
One thing confounded me as I studied our burial register from those early years.  Those not buried at Elmwood were usually buried at the “City Cemetery”, but I could find no location for it.  I later discovered it was the pauper’s cemetery for those who could not afford a plot at Elmwood.  It was located where Eastern Market now operates.
From 1880 to 1882 over 4500 bodies were disinterred from that former burial spot and reinterred in common grave at Elmwood Cemetery.  What a wonderful irony that even those who could not afford Elmwood, were now buried there as well.
Death is a great equalizer.  Not all will have the grand monuments or the above-ground mausoleums of the wealthy, but at the General Resurrection, when the earth and the sea shall give up their dead (Book of Common Prayer, p. 333), it will not be how and where one is buried that will determine our eternal habitation, but our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.