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, November 08, 2022

Death as Equilizer - Rector's Rambling for November 6, 2022

     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 Savior.