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, January 31, 2023

'Back to Normal' Annual Parish Meeting - Rector's Rambling for January 29, 2023

     For the first time since January of 2020 we are having a ‘regular’ Annual Parish Meeting at St. John’s.  In 2021 we were not permitted to meet in person for the meeting because we were restricted to “9 people plus the priest” for public worship and livestreaming - and we were doing 10 worship services a weekend to accommodate all who wanted to attend. That meeting was done via Zoom.

In 2022, having been restored to a modicum of normalcy for worship service attendance, we had coffee hour, meals, and other gatherings restricted once again by the diocese so we had a truncated meeting in the church itself.

So once again we get to gather for a meal and a chance to share the joys of what God has accomplished for us in the past year, and share our hopes, God being our helper, for the year ahead.  After the 10 AM Meeting come downstairs for a quick bite to eat and the meeting.

The first official meeting of the parish occurred on November 21, 1859.  The chapel had been consecrated for worship by the Bishop of Michigan the previous Thursday, November 17th, and the first Sunday of worship was held on the 20th.  On Monday night the Parish meeting had two items of business.  The re-election of the Vestry, and pew rents. 

Until 1936 the budget was set and met by the renting of pews for the year, rather than by the passing of the collection plate.  At that first meeting in 1859 they ran into a remarkable problem!  The 125 seat chapel, which they thought would be sufficient for 5 to 10 years for the parish built in the then rural outskirts of the city of Detroit, had 600 people apply to rent pews!!!  Within a week the Vestry approved plans to begin raising money to build the large church we also have now.  It was opened two years later!

In my time here at St. John’s (22 year anniversary comes up next month) we have had a few major building projects, including our most recent - the new Burton Ministry Center and undercroft renovation.  No building project on the agenda this year.  Join us to see what has been accomplished, and our hopes for the year ahead.


Monday, January 23, 2023

Communion: not just for Sunday! - Rector's Rambling for January 22, 2023

     You are present today at St. John’s for the most amazing and wonderful thing that can happen on this side of heaven!  Jesus Christ, the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity, God Himself, is feeding you under the species of bread and wine.  He becomes truly present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.  As it says in the catechism of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, it is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us; ordained by Christ himself, as a means whereby we receive the same, and a pledge to assure us thereof.”  And of course we all know that Jesus also tells us that “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”  It is vitally important that we receive Communion, and do so regularly.

The Holy Communion isn’t just offered on Sunday.  We also have a scheduled Mass (another name for the Service) 4 more days a week.  It is the supreme offering of prayer of the church, and the supreme source of grace-filled help for the faithful.  And although often it is just me and a few others there, it is, in a microcosm, the prayer and offering of the entire Church at that moment in this place.

Weekday Masses are about 30 minutes long, with a short homily (usually a biography of a saint being remembered that day) and no music/hymns.  It is an opportunity to come if you could not make it on Sunday, and it is ALSO an opportunity even if you kept your obligation on Sunday.  And this parish would be the better for more people making their Communion more often per week!

Weekday Masses for now are Monday through Weds at 12:15, Thursday at 10:30.  In Lent we add one on Fridays at 11:15 AM before Stations of the Cross.  I hope to see more people at Mass on Sunday and weekdays as well.  We all as individuals and as a parish will be blessed by it!


Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Back in the green, and Alpha - Rector's Rambling for January 15, 2023

Back in the green for this week and the next two as we continue our way through Epiphanytide, the Sundays after Epiphany.  As noted, the length of this season is dependent on the timing of Easter, which is dependent upon a lunar calendar.  This year Easter is April 9th, so we begin the Gesima pre-Lenten season (purple) on February 5, and Lent formally begins on Ash Wednesday, February 22nd.

Our next installment of the Alpha Course is scheduled to start on Monday, January 23rd and runs until April 3rd.  It sounds like a long commitment (11 weeks), but experience has proven that it is a worthwhile investment of your time, learning and building up your faith. 

An Alpha evening begins at 6:30 with dinner, followed by a videotaped teaching and a discussion afterwards.  We are usually done by 8 PM.  Topics include, “Who is Jesus?”, “Why did Jesus die?”, “Why and How do I pray?” and Does God heal today?” just to mention a few.  And the cost, including dinner, is FREE.

If you are unsure about taking Alpha, or unsure of the 11 week commitment, my advice is to sign up and plan on attending the first couple of weeks.  If it isn’t for you, you are always able to bow out at any time.

We are now advertising Alpha on social media. The course is written as an introduction to Christianity for those who are not yet members of the Church.  We are praying not only that St. John’s folks will attend, but that God will use this as a vehicle to introduce Jesus Christ to those who do not know Him.  Afterall, that is a primary purpose for the church - bringing people to Jesus Christ.

Our parish motto is “to know Christ and to make Him known”.  Alpha accomplishes both sides of that equation!  We come to know Christ better as members, and offering the course both equips us for ministry and is an vehicle to make Him know to others as well!


Monday, January 09, 2023

Epiphanytide starts - Rector's Rambling for January 8, 2023

     This past week we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany.  Some years the 6th of January falls on a Sunday so that we get to celebrate it at our regular Sunday worship.  We celebrated it with a 12:15 Mass on Friday, and as one can expect, it was a slightly smaller gathering of people then if it were on a Sunday!

Every year when we do our children’s Christmas Pageant inevitably someone asks, “where are the wise men?”.  At the Christmas Pageant the children are dressed as angels, shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and that is plenty of story to tell!

But the wise men are a part of another story.  At Christmas the shepherds coming to see the child Jesus represent for us the people of God’s original covenant, the Hebrews.  They come and adore him on bended knee and worship him as Lord and King.

The Prayer Book calls this feast not only The Epiphany, but also “the Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles”.  Thirteen days after Christmas the wise men (Magi) arrive, representing the various nations outside that original covenant.  They represent us (well, at least most of us) who are gentiles (not Jews).  The star they follow is a sign of the birth of this new king, one that will be King of all.

Today’s lessons have us jump ahead a dozen years, to the finding of Jesus in the Temple.  As a fellow seminarian once called it in a chapel sermon “the original Home Alone” episode.  Jesus, growing toward adulthood, goes with his family to the Temple – the central location of Jewish worship, sacrifice, and devotion, and stays behind to be with his Father (heavenly father).  However, being a good Jew who honors his mother and father, he returns to Nazareth to grow in stature until the time that he is made manifest publicly at age 30.

And in the coming weeks we will be looking at ways in which Jesus is made manifest as the Son of God.  For three Sundays we will be in the green vestments for this season.  In February it is back into the purple for the pre-Lenten season, known as the gesima Sundays.


Monday, January 02, 2023

8th Day of Christmas - Rector's Rambling for January 1st, 2023

Happy New Year!

Today we start the year off right by attending Church, especially because the feast day also falls on a Sunday.

A very small percentage of regular Church-goers attend worship on New Year’s day.  Most people stayed up too late to ring in the New Year, and perhaps enjoyed one or two libations which hindered their early rising.  And there are many distractions on New Year’s Day, including parades from California and Miami, and a barrage of college football games.  In Philadelphia there was the Mummer’s Parade - an all day and evening affair of men dressed in strange feathered costumes and marching to music on saxophone and banjo (I kid you not…try Googling “Mummers Parade”).

Today is a feast day, not because it is the start of the calendar year, but because it is the 8th day of Christmas.

Having celebrated with great pomp and ceremony the birth of Jesus on Christmas, the Church gathers again 7 days later as Jesus participates in the original covenant between God and the people of the Jews by being circumcised.  This outward sign of the covenant, sealed with the shedding of blood, was the proof of being one of God’s people.  Jesus was a Jew, but this shedding of first blood was also the beginning of the fulfillment of the old Law by Jesus, so that we are marked not in the flesh but saved by grace through faith.

Also, on this day the Jewish child formally receives their name.  Just as right before we baptize we state, “Name this Child”, so too the Jew receives his name.  For Jesus, this is even more important (his name having been foretold by the angel), because his name, meaning “God saves” is the only name under heaven by which we can be saved.  It is only by calling on that wondrous name publically proclaimed at His circumcision that we come into relationship with His Father.  A Happy New Year indeed!   


Thank you to everyone who pitched in to make last weekend’s celebration of Christmas so special at St. John’s!  The outstanding music, the altar so lovingly prepared, the ushers welcoming and directing, and the lectors and servers attending to worship responsibilities!