Havre de Grace churches tour attracts many visitors

A very blustery, cold day didn't stop dozens of people from stopping in Havre de Grace Sunday for the city's 14th annual Christmas Open House of Historic 19th and 20th century churches.

People from beyond Harford County and even beyond Maryland stopped by to gaze at the impressive architecture and learn a little more about the five highlighted churches, all within a three-block radius.

For many visitors Sunday, the first stop on the self-guided tour was Havre de Grace United Methodist Church on Union Avenue, which saw a steady stream of people coming through soon after the event started.

Ten-year-old Nicole Wurstner, of Glen Burnie, was one of the younger visitors on the tour and was having a great time.

"It's awesome," she said after her first stop, the Methodist church. "I liked the stained glass 'cause it was really pretty."

Her mother, Katey Wurstner, had brought Nicole in previous years but she did not remember it.

Katey Wurstner said she had heard of about the tour online and came last year, when she also spent the night at the Spencer-Silver Mansion Bed & Breakfast.

"It's just really pretty churches. I like the history of them," Wurstner said, adding that her own church is much smaller, has a small following and does not have the same historic architecture.

"I like my daughter to see the difference in the churches," she said.

Katey and Nicole Wurstner were joined by Rose Wurstner, of Severna Park, and Sue Tant, of Arnold. Tant noted she had only been to historic churches in Europe before this.

"It's nice that we are preserving history, since we tend to tear things down," Tant said about Havre de Grace's churches.

The Methodist church, for example, dates to 1901. The church received a new organ in 1968, and has under gone many restorations to the sanctuary and other spaces.

The tour also featured St. John's Episcopal Church on Union Avenue, St. Patrick Catholic Church on Congress Avenue, First Baptist Church on South Stokes Street and St. James AME Church on Green Street.

The annual event is sponsored by the Susquehanna Ministerium and is free to attend.

Darlene Martinek and Ann Campbell, both of Bel Air, said they also enjoyed their visit, as they paused outside the Methodist church.

"It's an experience," Martinek said, comparing the tour to a "pilgrimage."

The women said they are Catholics and have visited churches like the Baltimore Basilica.

"We always love to visit new churches," they said. "It's beautiful, and people devoted their lives to it, and hard-earned money."

Martinek said they like to see houses of worship from different religions and see how people worship. Campbell noted: "We all worship the same God."

"The churches are exquisite," Martinek said. "Thank goodness somebody had the wherewithal to restore it."

The tour seemed to be getting roughly the same number of visitors it usually gets. St. Patrick Church clocked 45 visitors halfway through the tour, and about 100 people total attended last year.

Donna Johnson and Donna Benjamin, both of Rising Sun, are regulars on the Havre de Grace historic tour circuit and said they come to see the churches every year.

They were among those asking church guides like Jan Biondo, of St. John's, about the particulars of church life and decor. The women wanted to know the meaning of the many flags hanging by the church's balcony, while some visitors at St. Patrick Church wondered who St. Patrick was and about the history of the church.

Hayden Anthony, of Bel Air, brought his family after his mother, Margot Anthony, a York, Pa., resident, told him about the open house.

"I just wanted to see different churches, for Christmas especially, and we thought it would be beautiful," Margot Anthony said.

Hayden Anthony said it was a good opportunity to see "the stuff that you don't get to see today," in reference to historic architecture.

"It's nice that they are doing this," he said, citing the "fine craftsmanship" of the churches.

He pointed out how many historic churches are within such a small area.

"It's kind of nice that there's that many within a couple of blocks," he said.

"It's beautiful to see," Margot Anthony added.

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