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Havre de Grace church tour competes with rain, Ravens

Heavy rains Sunday, as well as a critical Baltimore Ravens game, kept large crowds away from the annual Christmas Open House tour of historic Havre de Grace churches.

"Today has been really, really low," Ron Smith, pastor of the First Baptist Church on South Stokes Street, said. "Typically, as soon as its starts I'm talking to people until 4 o'clock."

The tour went on as scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m., and small groups of visitors trickled into First Baptist and the other five featured churches.

The tour was sponsored by the Susquehanna Ministerium, a cooperative organization of local churches. Stops included churches within a few blocks of each other in the downtown district: Havre de Grace United Methodist Church at South Union and Congress avenues, St. John's Episcopal Church catty-corner to the Methodist Church at North Union and Congress, St. Patrick Catholic Church on Congress Avenue, the First Baptist Church, Grace Reformed Episcopal Church on Fountain Street and St. James AME Church on Green Street.

"Generally we have just a flow of people from 2 to 4 every year," said Smith, who is also the recording secretary of the Ministerium and the organizer of the tour.

The area was hit by a driving rain earlier on Sunday, though it had slowed to a drizzle by the time the church tour began.

The tour, which is self-guided, typically draws people from as far away as Baltimore and Pennsylvania. Sunday was no exception, despite the weather.

Allan and Linda Urban, of Shawsville, a northwestern Harford County community close to the Baltimore County line, walked to the various churches, bundled against the drizzle and the cold.

They spoke outside Havre de Grace United Methodist, after having visited First Baptist and St. John's.

"We came over despite the ran and so far had two great connects with members of the churches," Allan Urban said.

Sunday was their first time on the church tour.

They said they enjoyed learning about the history of the churches – St. John's is more than 200 years old and was standing when the British invaded and sacked Havre de Grace in 1813 – and meeting the members and church leaders who gave guided tours.

Linda Urban said she and her husband were able to "pick up some history and enjoy talking with the folks, and I think their pride in their history and their church is nice; it's contagious."

Visitors to the Methodist Church, which was founded in 1901 with financial support from a local couple, Annie and Stephen Seneca, were treated to the sight of its massive sanctuary, with its vaulted ceiling, and the sounds of its equally massive organ.

Debbie Heydt, music director, played the Moller pipe organ behind the pulpit.

"The acoustics in here are just wonderful, just wonderful," she said.

The organ, built in Hagerstown, includes 1,100 pipes; Heydt pointed out the sounding pipes, which are behind the decorative, or voiceless, pipes that visitors to the sanctuary can see stretching above the console.

She said the pipes that can be seen are a "façade," since they have been painted, and the paint affects the sound that comes through the pipes.

"It distorts the sound so these are all a façade," she explained.

Sandra Chase, an active member of the church who provided tours Sunday, said visitors are typically "in awe" of the sanctuary, with its high ceilings, chandeliers, balcony and stained glass windows.

She estimated about half a dozen people turned out Sunday, and surmised the weather kept the regular crowds away.

"And I don't blame them one bit," Chase said.

The Urbans, said they had arrived around 3 p.m. and wished they had more time to spend on the tour. Allan Urban said he enjoyed speaking to the people and hearing the stories of the churches as much as visiting the churches themselves.

"And we'll come back next year," his wife added.

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