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

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Rector's Report to the Annual Parish Meeting - Rector's Rambling for February 5, 2023

A few weeks ago, with my wife and daughter out of town for the weekend, I tackled a project that I have been meaning to get to for quite a while.  I went through 22 years of vestry meeting file folders, taking one copy of the materials for each meeting (agenda, minutes, financial reports, etc) and putting them into three ring binders.  The result was that 6 file folder boxes were emptied, 12 three ring binders filled, about 200 file folders reclaimed for re-use, and 3 overflowing boxes of paper taken to a shredding/recycling place.

            The project took longer than it might have if it wasn’t also a trip down memory lane for me.  Each month and years’ file folders brought up names of members who have come and gone (through death, relocation, or transfer), situations and opportunities brought to fruition or not, and hopes achieved or dashed.   How often things that were great worries were resolved not necessarily by our efforts but always by God’s grace and time.  In hindsight many situations we were so concerned about God took care of it in his own time and manner, often beyond or comprehension.  And how often those things that were so concerning in the moment ended up not being an issue in the big picture..  It was also interesting to note that my first year here at St. John’s (2001) the annual budget was $311,000 with $60,000 in pledges.  For comparison this year we had a $736,000 budget with $205,000 in pledge/plate income.

            The other thing that stuck out to me was the pattern of the ups and downs from year to year.  There has been two major influences on the ebb and flow that became apparent.  The first was the ups and downs of the economy.  In the 22 years I have been here the economy has had times of abundance and several downturns as well.  This affects people’s ability to contribute. Thankfully since 2014 we have not used the endowment to fund the budget (other than the one fund given for the Organist Scholarship) so when the economy shrinks, the temporary drop in the value of the funds does not affect the parish budget. 

            The other thing that has become apparent by looking through the documents is that when we started focusing on the money situation and worried, then things got worse, not better.   It was then that we lost focus on the ‘first things first’ of looking to the ministry that has been entrusted to us to glorify God in worship and to equip us to become the saints that God desires us to be….and to share the Good News with others!  Each time when we found ourselves beginning to flounder we had to reboot to the system.  And that reboot has always been a deeper dedication to worship, prayer, study, and ministry to others.  When we put those things first, then amazing things happen by God’s grace and to His glory.

            2022 was a year where we began to make some advance beyond the covid shut-downs as the year went on.  A reminder that at this time last year we could not have a normal Annual Parish Meeting because we could not go down to the undercroft for a meal or to assemble. Instead we had a truncated meeting in the church sanctuary.   In 2021 the meeting was only allowed via zoom - we were in the midst of the “9 person and the priest” restrictions for worship and were doing 10 worship services a weekend! So I am grateful that we can gather here to share the joy of a meal, each other’s company, and can thank each other in person for the reports of the various guilds and ministries.

            And although this year we have had a few members depart through relocation and a few by earthly death, we have also scene an influx of new faces in the pews.  One of our Vestry candidates discovered St. John’s 15 months ago and she and her mother, father, and sister are now regular attenders at 8 AM.  And perhaps for the first time in my 22 years here all the couples that I married this year still regularly attend St. John’s after their wedding.  This is a great blessing.

            I would be remiss to not express my gratitude for all the grace-filled efforts of folks who have contributed of their time, talents, and treasure in support the parish.  We are blessed to have so many who pitch in.  But I would also be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that regular Sunday attendance could improve which would be good for the individuals as well as good for the parish as a whole.  And I hope that we will share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others and be deliberate about inviting people to join us here at St. John’s.

            I thank God for 22 years as your Rector.  May year number 23 been another one full of blessings.