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Annual Havre de Grace church tour invites visitors in for the 14th year

BY MARISSA GALLO, mgallo@theaegis.com

5:20 PM EST, December 19, 2012

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Marking its 14th year, the annual Christmas Open House of historic 19th and 20th century Havre de Grace churches will greet visitors hoping to take a peek at their beautiful architecture.

The free, self-guided tour sponsored by the Susquehanna Ministerium will be 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 30, with a Jan. 6 snow date.

Those interested can get brochures from Havre de Grace Untied Methodist Church, the first stop on the tour, or the Havre de Grace Tourism and Visitors Center. Brochures include a map of the churches.

Tour creator and chairman Ray Astor said people should expect to see the same fantastic churches from previous years, which are all more than 100 years old.

On the tour are many places of worship on the city's "Church Row," which has a high concentration of churches in the few blocks of Congress Avenue where it intersects with Union Avenue in Downtown Havre de Grace.

Havre de Grace United Methodist Church, 101 S. Union Ave., St. John's Episcopal Church, 114 N. Union Ave., St. Patrick Catholic Church, 615 Congress Ave., First Baptist Church, 108 S. Stokes St., and St. James AME Church, 617 Green St. make up the five stops on the open house tour.

Before the tour begins, Havre de Grace Wayne Dougherty will announce the winners of the city's annual outdoor nativity scene contest at 1:30 at St. Patrick's.

Astor, who recently turned 90 years old, originally introduced the idea to the president of the Susquehanna Ministerium 14 years ago and has been running it ever since with the assistance of a few local pastors, a job he calls a "privilege."

One of his favorite parts of the tour, Astor said, are the "many stained glass windows that are unusual in modern churches these days," such as the ones at St. Patrick's, where he is a member. "Modern churches don't get into that anymore."

Astor encourages people to see what artisans of the past have created in Havre de Grace and can't be found in newly built churches.

"There's the old forms of architecture, the high ceilings and we have the old fashioned alters made out of marble with very intricate designs on them and statues of angels," Astor said, giving examples. "Modern architecture has gone away from that because it's very labor intensive."

Naturally, St. Patrick's is Astor's favorite stop on the tour, citing its "beautiful nativity scenes," both outdoor and indoor.

Hopefully, this year's tour will be as successful as last year's, which, Astor said, was the "biggest and best tour we ever had." Part of this was because the weather was beautiful, and Astor said he hopes the weather will hold out again this year.

When he began the tour, Astor didn't think about how popular it would become, "just hope it'll catch on and be a success," he said. "but as long as the good Lord let's me do it, I'll do it."