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, August 21, 2023

Prayer is not just for Sunday - Rector's Rambling for August 20, 2023

Prayer – it’s not just for Sunday!  I know that sounds simplistic, but I would venture a guess that for many in the Church, Sunday is the only time of the week spent earnestly in prayer.  And even then, I fear that the 75 minutes at St. John’s is all that many are getting in, if at all.

The late bishop of the Diocese of Michigan, Richard Emrich, wrote that any renewal that could happen in the church must start in prayer and worship, and he is exactly right.  A praying church is a growing church.  In fact, during his tenure as Diocesan bishop (which then included all of the eastern half of the lower peninsula) there were 49 missions and parishes established.

As Anglicans, we have as a great gift in The Book of Common Prayer.  We use it on Sunday for our worship: Holy Communion and Morning Prayer.  And during the week, Holy Communion and Evening Prayer are prayed in community as well.  They are great opportunities to gather together in His name, to worship, to hear scripture read, and to put ourselves for 20 to 30 minutes fully into His presence.

And YOU can use the Book of Common Prayer every day of the week.  We have free, used copies in the parish library if you want a copy.  You can pray Morning and Evening Prayer at home, or, if you are not ready to commit yet to that much formality, then there is also a section called “Forms of Prayer to be used in Families” (p. 587 to 593).  This is a collection of prayers to begin and end the day in prayer.  Plus, there are lots of other prayers and thanksgivings for all sorts of occasions on pages 594 to 600, as well as pages 35 to 53.  These prayers are time-tested and very helpful.

Formal, written prayers are a great way to “prime the pump” and direct us in right doctrine as we pray.  But we should also be regular in praying from the heart, speaking comfortably and relationally to the Lord.  The formal prayer is a good start, but be sure also to check in in personal prayer as well to stay close and intimate with Jesus.


Monday, August 14, 2023

St. Mary's August Feast Day - Rector's Rambling for August 13, 2023

      On Tuesday, August 15th we are celebrating in the Episcopal Church the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin.

August 15 has long been kept as a feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Christianity, and many Anglican Parishes kept it as a Holy Day before the reform of the calendar in the 1970s formally added it.

The Roman Catholic Church keeps this day as the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, and the Eastern Orthodox Churches commemorate it as the Feast of the Dormition.  Both titles have to do with end of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s earthly life.  Tradition has it that when Mary died her body was taken into heaven just as the Jewish tradition says Moses’ was and the scripture attests that Elijah’s was (without his dying first).  The Episcopal Church has not been formal about declaring this as a doctrine of the Church because it occurs after the recording of Scripture.

As Episcopalians we remember that we can require nothing as necessary for belief concerning salvation that is not contained in Scripture.  But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things which are true and happened, but not recorded for us in Scripture.  They just cannot be required for belief.

The teaching of the Church concerning the death and assumption into heaven is one of those doctrines that cannot be required for salvation, but can be taken for truth on solid tradition of the contemporary writers of that time who attest to this reality.

I know that for me the biggest proof is the reality that the early church venerated and held dear the bodies of the early saints.  The Apostles and others we hear about in scripture have their physical remains venerated (held in high esteem) as what are called relics.  Yet the one body from which Jesus Christ took his earthly flesh has no physical remains held as relics.  Wouldn’t the early church in its zeal to do such things with the saints do so with Jesus’ own mother if her body remained here on earth?

The Anglican compromise is to make it a general feast day in thanksgiving for the life of Mary, and on that we can certainly agree!


Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Transfiguration and new organ scholar - Rector's Rambling for August 6, 2023

     Last week we got a chance to have a special celebration by having our Founders’ Day.  This week it is the Church Calendar that gives us the opportunity to have a special celebration.

August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration, and because it falls on a Sunday this year, we get to celebrate it instead of the 9th Sunday after Trinity.  All Feasts of Our Lord have “Precedence” over most regularly appointed Sundays, such as Sundays after Trinity.  If you want to see which special days have priority then you can turn to pages l and li in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer for the Tables and Rules for the Movable and Immovable Feasts.

On the top of Mount Tabor in Israel, where this happened, is a lovely 1920s church that replaced a destroyed 12th century Crusader-built church built over the ruins of a destroyed 4th century Byzantine church.  But it is around back, in the gardens, that one gets a sense of what it may have been like in Jesus’ time, to see Him as His divinity shined through his human flesh.  Jesus is alone with the core group of disciples who get a glimpse of what has been called a pre-Resurrection Resurrection appearance.  Even if Peter gets it wrong (again) they did figure out eventually that it is Jesus alone who is worthy of worship, and so we do today.


Today we welcome our new Edwards Organ Scholar, Grace Jackson.  According to her bio Grace “is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts with a concentration in organ and sacred music from the University of Michigan studying with Professor Nicole Keller. In May of 2023, Grace received a Master of Sacred Music from the University of Notre Dame with a concentration in organ having studied with Dr. Kola Owolabi. During her time at Notre Dame, she served as organist and graduate assistant for the Liturgical Choir at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. A native of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Grace completed a Bachelor of Music in organ and piano performance from Oklahoma City University (OCU) under the direction of Dr. Melissa Plamann and Dr. Sergio Monteiro. During her time at OCU, she was a music assistant for Bishop W. Angie Smith Chapel, served Westminster Presbyterian Church as organ scholar, and from 2020-2021 she was Director of Music and organist at St. Joseph Old Cathedral in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Grace is excited to join the music ministry at St. John’s and looks forward to learning from and serving alongside Dr. Huw Lewis to aid in a prayerful liturgy.” 


Tuesday, August 01, 2023

The past is prologue - Rector's Rambling for July 30, 2023

In October of 2000 I read the history of St. John’s Church.  The 50th Anniversary Book an the 100th Anniversary Book were published on our original website, and I had been contacted by the search committee to consider applying to be the rector here.

Since then I have read both several  more times, and have also perused my way through old Chronicles and vestry minutes of the parish.  I am a history fan, and love reading about the history of places and organizations that I am in involved with.  And St. John’s certainly has a very rich history!

I remember seeing a statement “The Past is Prologue”, and it confirmed for me why I find history of places and people so interesting. That which has gone before us, and those who have gone before us, are the introduction to and foundation of who we are here and now.

We do live in a time where whatever is new is considered better, and where the past is looked down on with distain.  Yet we need to know the past to understand why we  believe what we believe and why we do what we do.

The two published history books certain give a wonderful overview of those early years.  Copies of the Centennial Books are available in the glass cabinet near the undercroft door.  And I find interesting the old copies of this weekly Chronicle, most of which we have bound and on the shelves in the parish library.  The Vestry Minutes are also bound and stored in a fireproof safe.

While looking through an old Chronical I discovered that the idea of a Christmas Eve Service was first tried in 1920s and although there were only a few hundred people in attendance compared to the 2000+ people on Christmas Day at 5 Services, it was worth trying it again the next year.  And recently Office Manager Elizabeth Savage was looking through some Chronicles from the 1960s and discovered a comment thanking David Boulton for sending a donation for the mitten tree from when he was in the air force!

We are blessed with a great foundation, and now we move forward in the same faith as those who have prayed in these pews these since 1859 (chapel) and 1861 (church).