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, September 26, 2022

Royal Funeral as opportunity to invite - Rector's Rambling for September 25, 2022


It is been estimated that 5 BILLION people watched the funeral for Queen Elizabeth at Westminster Abbey, and I am sure countless more will watch portions on replay on social media.  As the first English Monarch to have their coronation televised live back in 1953, believed to be viewed at the time by 100 million people worldwide, it is fittingly appropriate that her funeral would also be watched by so many.

How often I am asked by people what worship at St. John’s is like, and my answer is “have you seen an English royal wedding or funeral? - that is our traditional worship style at St. John’s.”  This past Monday’s Service, broadcast around the world, was the 1662 Book of Common Prayer Burial Office, mirrored very closely in our own 1928 Book of Common Prayer.

Although few funerals at St. John’s involve a military escort or full choir, the same theological reverence and dignity is in full effect for all who are buried with the rites of the Church.  Whether it be The Burial Office (no Communion) or a Requiem Mass (Holy Communion Service) it is done with the same faithfulness and dignity attended to for kings and queens in England.

Watching the funeral on Monday, I was moved to awe not just at the pomp and circumstance of it all, but the display of the fullness of the faith that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He is Risen, and that those who believe have the gift of eternal life through Him.  Elizabeth, as Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, believed in Jesus Christ as Lord.  This was evident in her many statements over the years at Christmas.  I hope and pray that Charles as King displays the same unabashed belief in The King of Kings and Lord of Lords as he has assumed the mantle of leadership of the Church of England, our mother church.

And discussions about the Queen’s funeral is also a great opportunity for evangelism!  Be sure to point out to friends the hope of the Resurrection in Jesus Christ on full display that day, and invite people to St. John’s to experience worship using the same Holy Spirit inspired words and ritual expressing the Universal Faith as the Church has received it from Jesus

Monday, September 19, 2022

Treasure, Alpha, and Homecoming... Rector's Rambling for September 18, 2022

     Our busy September is mid-way completed.  The Choir is back, Sunday school got its start last week, and we re-rededicated our upgraded carillon.  What a fun experience to be outside, hearing the bells as the neighborhood was abuzz with Lions fans tailgating, and others arriving for the game following.  Today we have both Lions and Tigers fans in the neighborhood as the latters season draws near to a close.  Makes things interesting to see the neighborhood buzzing with activity.  Next week both teams are out of town.

I hope that today you will go downstairs to the undercroft to partake in the 2nd Annual Trash to Treasure sale.  Open since Thursday, there are still many fine items left to purchase.  Proceeds from the sale goes to projects chosen by the St. Catherine’s Guild, our local chapter of the Episcopal Church Women. Thank you to everyone who donated to the sale, and to all who have (and will) purchase to support the cause.

The next BIG thing on the calendar begins a week from Monday.  The Alpha Course is being offered once again here at St. John’s.  This 10 week class begins with dinner, and video teaching, and discussion about The Faith.  The class is tailored for those curious about Christianity, as well as for those already in the Church as a refresher course.  It is my hope that many parishioners will enroll so that we can all be informed and encouraged to be able to share the faith.

Looking ahead October 9th is our Homecoming Sunday, where we will have a luncheon and honor Harriett Mottley for her many years of service as our Office Manager.

The awning over the undercroft entrance was damaged by the storms a few weeks ago.  The canvas lasted 15 years and is due to be replaced in the coming weeks.  Contributions to cost of replacement is most welcome.


Sunday, September 11, 2022

Remembering - Rector's Rambling for September 11, 2022

     Today, primarily, we are celebrating the 13th Sunday after Trinity because that is assigned on the calendar for the collects and readings.  We also have our first day of Sunday School, the return of the full choir season, and our rededication of the carillon today at coffee hour, with a concert at 11:45 AM.

But today is also a day of somber remembrance as well.  It is hard to fathom that it is already 21 years since the hijackings of 9/11 that ended in such carnage and destruction in New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, PA. 

For those of us who are old enough to remember (and just saying that makes me realize how long it has been) we have memories of what we were doing that day when we first heard the news, how we reacted, and what it was like in the following days, weeks, and months. The effects of the events of that day still reverberate today, effecting US foreign policy as well as homeland security precautions. 

Since the War of 1812 we felt a sense of security on our continent, for the most part, from attacks from foreign enemies. During the Cold War we certainly feared an attack from missiles launched from far away.  I studied US/Soviet nuclear policy in college and it certainly was concerning, but thankfully no attack happened.   The events of 9/11 burst the bubble of security on our continent, as we awakened to the stark reality of evil, foreign based terrorism, and our need for vigilance at home as well as abroad.

Today at the Carillon Bell Concert we will play as one of the hymns O God, our help in ages past.  On this day in 2001, a dozen of us gathered in the evening at St. John’s in an otherwise deserted downtown Detroit.  All workers had been sent home mid-morning as a precaution in case tall buildings here might be targeted.  We did what Christians do in times of distress and attack -  we gather to pray!  And we sang that hymn as a powerful reminder that no matter what the earthly circumstance God is still our help and ultimately our home as well. 

May we remember that He is our God in the good times, as well as the bad, and we should turn to Him in all the situations in which we find ourselves.


Bells at St. John's, Detroit

 When the Chapel of St. John’s opened for worship on November 17, 1859, people were welcomed with the ringing of the bell installed over the entranceway.  That bell still rings today, calling the faithful to worship.  Before and after the 10 AM Service our own Christopher Baetz is often found ringing this bell!  It is rung by pulling the rope in the entranceway of the chapel, making it swing back and forth.

 When the Church opened in 1861 the tower was also equipped with a bell.  This bell can be rung two ways.  It can be swung, and it can be tolled as well.  There are two separate ropes on the second story of the bell tower, one for each function on the same bell.  This bell gets its best workout on Thanksgiving Day as the children in attendance at the parade festivities at St. John’s take turns ringing it to greet Saint Nicholas as he passes the Church!

 A set of chimes was installed in the bell tower in 1914 in memory of Joseph Gardner Standard who died in 1912.  These were a series of tuned tubes that could be played by pulling ropes for simple hymn tunes.  At some point in the 1970s the apparatus deteriorated, and the chimes sold for scrap according to a parishioner who helped remove them from the tower at the request of the then Rector.

 An electronic carillon was installed and dedicated in 1989.  This Schulmerich system was top of the line for that era, with a digital audio tape player to play hymns.  Also programmed onto the device was the Westminster Chimes, ringing on the quarter hour.  By 2001 the digital audio tape player ceased working and parts unavailable.  In subsequent years the late Chris Sayers made it a personal mission to keep the rest of it working, replacing amplifiers and other parts as they stopped performing their functions.  In the summer of 2021 it was deemed beyond repair.

 A replacement system was installed in the summer of 2022.  The Schulmerich Bell Company was purchased by Verdin Bells, and the new device is the best of both company’s technology.  Only 10 percent the size of the previous device, the new unit has thousands of hymns and different types of bell ringing patterns stored on it, which can be programmed to play at appointed times of the day.  Currently it is programmed to ring the Westminster Chimes at the quarter hour from 7 AM to 11 PM (Noon to 11 PM on Sunday), ring the Angelus Prayer at Noon and 6 PM, and play hymns at 12:02 and 5:02 PM. 

 The tolling bell was rung for 20 minutes on September 8th when news was received of the passing the Queen Elizabeth.

Sunday, September 04, 2022

Labor Day Weekend - Rector's Rambling for September 4, 2022

I hope that everyone is enjoying this holiday weekend, and I am grateful for those who are in town and able to join us for worship.

The programming year begins in earnest this week, with the Daughters of the King gathering for their monthly meeting this Saturday at 10 AM.  Next Sunday we restart the Sunday School during the 10 AM Service, the choir returns at fuller numerical strength, and after the 10 AM Service, we will have a re-dedication of the upgraded carillon at a special coffee hour out in the garden.  This will include a concert on the bells of patriotic and religious hymns.

The following week we have set up and the Trash to Treasure Sale; invite your friends to shop and see the church as well.

The next Alpha Course begins on September 26 and will run for 10 Monday nights.  What is Alpha?  It is a course on the basics of Christianity geared towards those who know little to nothing about it, AND it also is a wonderful refresher course for those who are already members of the Church.

An Alpha Evening begins with dinner at 6:30 PM.  Afterwards we watch a 30 minute video teaching and then have a discussion.  All questions are welcome as we discuss the Faith, who Jesus is, what He has done, and we attempt to answer the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of being a Christian.

The Church is an organization that exists for those who are not members of it yet.  Evangelism is the primary purpose of the Church - to bring people to, and to introduce them to, Jesus Christ.  Alpha is a wonderful way to do this. 

In order for us to begin to become a church of people who are natural evangelists we need to be informed and supported in the faith.  The Alpha Course becomes a perfect way for us to all have a foundation from which to build and grow.  It is my hope that every member of St. John’s will take the Alpha Course between now and next fall so that we all have a common base.

Additionally, inviting people to Alpha is more natural when you can say “I took this course, and I thought it was great” or even “I took this course, and now I am volunteering to help for the next session...you should come and take it—I’d love to see you there!”