Bitter cold means sparse attendance at Havre de Grace church tour Sunday

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Attendance was down “dramatically” from previous years at the Susquehanna Ministerium’s annual walking tour of historic Havre de Grace churches Sunday, according to one local pastor who cited outdoor temperatures in the teens as a major factor.

“It’s bitterly cold, and it is mostly a walking tour, so we understand that folk might not have wanted to come out,” the Rev. Norman Obenshain, pastor of Havre de Grace United Methodist Church, said.

About 10 people visited the Methodist Church downtown during the two-hour event, according to Obenshain. It was one of eight churches on the 19th annual tour.

“They had a lot of questions, seemed interested in the church,” member Karen Jobes said.

Visitors to the sanctuary could see the massive pipe organ, lit candles on the altar, red poinsettias along the base of the altar and garlands with strings of lights along the rails.

“It’s an opportunity for us to open our doors and let visitors to Havre de Grace — and folk who have lived in Havre de Grace — to come see our churches, learn a little bit about our ministries and enjoy the architecture and the beauty of the season as we’ve decorated our sanctuaries,” Obenshain said.

The congregation has been in Havre de Grace since the 1700s; the home at South Union and Congress avenues was dedicated in 1902, according to Obenshain.

He said visitors asked “good questions” about the congregation, the church and the United Methodist denomination.

“It’s been a lot of fun to answer those questions,” Obenshain said.

The Methodist Church was one of eight houses of worship on Sunday’s tour, seven of which are within walking distance of each other. The eighth church, Webster Congregational Christian Church, is off Level Road about five miles west of the city.

Webster did not have any visitors for the majority of the day. The Rev. Audrey Price, the outgoing interim pastor, gathered with church members and lay leaders, enjoying snacks laid out for visitors.

The incoming pastor, the Rev. Jim Sterner, will preach his first service Jan. 14, according to Deacon Garrett Lyttle.

“Unfortunately, the weather’s not cooperating today,” James Cook, a board of trustees member, said.

Cook said he suspects people stayed home Sunday to watch football as well — the Baltimore Ravens battled the Cincinnati Bengals for an NFL playoff berth but lost, 31-27, in the game’s final minute.

Sunday was the second time Webster participated in the church tour. Price, who has been interim pastor since August 2016, said visitors did come the previous year.

“We are proud to say that, because of that [2016] church tour, we gained two fine members,” Price said.

Cook, 66, is one of those new members; he said he has been trying churches of different denominations throughout his life, and he finally found a home in Webster CCC, which is part of The United Church of Christ.

“I've been to a lot of [churches],” he said. “This [has] the best people I've ever run into.”

Webster, which was founded in 1924, has about 70 members, according to Lyttle.

The congregation supports other community organizations and religious institutions, such as providing space for Living Water Apostolic Church’s Sunday services and hosting Boy Scout Troop 965, Lyttle said.

Congregants fill backpacks with nonperishable food for 50 Havre de Grace Elementary School students each week — food they can take home for the weekend — through the Blessings in a Backpack program.

Webster members and their fellow congregants in Susquehanna Ministerium churches volunteer at the Grace Place Feeding Center, through which people in need can get weekly meals at St. John’s Episcopal Church downtown.

“It's a wonderful congregation, very open and loving,” Webster’s Price said. “They see the importance to do ministry within the community and on behalf of the community.”

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