A freezing Christmas ushered thousands to Baltimore's churches for joyful worship and a day of giving.
Volunteers served more than 200 ham and turkey dinners to the homeless at midday yesterday at the Light Street Presbyterian Church in Federal Hill.
Members of Catonsville Presbyterian, Chestnut Grove Presbyterian in Phoenix and Brown Memorial Woodbrook Presbyterian churches and the staff of the Presbytery of Baltimore worked shifts to prepare food and gifts given to all the guests.
"Yes, Virginia, there's poor beyond the harbor and we have them here," said Jaye Burtnick, director of the South Baltimore Emergency Relief Center.
"But the generosity of the community was incredible. I'm tired of the students at Southern High School getting a bad rap. They came through with $125 in cash and 1,641 cans of food and pieces of clothing.
"The Calvert Hall boys adopted 27 families in South Baltimore," Burtnick said. "You ought to see the gifts they distributed. Those students really came through for us. And St. Mary's Star of the Sea people brought us toys, canned goods and money. The money donations from Christ Lutheran senior housing apartment house poured in. Those seniors dug into their pockets. It was a beautiful Christmas."
Elsewhere around the Baltimore area, the Christmas spirit also was being felt.
The cold weather was causing some supply-and-demand problems at one spot yesterday in Fells Point.
"The long underwear we distributed was at a premium," said Sister Eleanor Noll, O.S.B., at the Beans and Bread Meal Program on Aliceanna Street.
She and other St. Vincent de Paul Society members served 340 Christmas dinners to the needy and homeless.
"When we arrived here this morning, there were only two pies," Noll said. "But the donations came in throughout the day, so there was plenty to go around."
Although there wasn't enough long underwear to fill all the requests, each of her patrons left with winter hats, scarves or sweaters.
Before midnight Christmas Eve, Baltimore churches' pews filled. Along Belair Road, near Herring Run Park, Roman Catholics faced the subfreezing temperatures to walk to the Shrine of the Little Flower, where a capacity congregation joined the choir in the singing of "O Holy Night" at midnight. When the choir finished singing Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," the congregation turned, faced the organ gallery and applauded.
At the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Assumption downtown, some 2,400 people attended Christmas services, with 1,221 at the midnight mass offered by Bishop John Ricard, S.S.J., the urban vicar of Baltimore.
Catholic Archbishop William Keeler, who officiated at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen on Charles Street, offered a Christmas message: "The Holy Family traveled far from home for the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. So many today find themselves in new homes or as refugees from home, or because of world conditions, serving in distant places. For all of them we pray that they may find Christ's gift of peace."
At 7 a.m. yesterday, the temperature registered 12 degrees in Dickeyville, the 19th century mill town in West Baltimore off West Forest Park Avenue.
By long established custom, a handful of residents literally ring in the day. Dressed in heavy coats, they assembled on the white frame Dickey Memorial Presbyterian Church steps, sang carols and pulled the ropes on a pair of resonant bronze bells. They then headed indoors for a short worship service.
"Some of the residents aren't that delighted with the bells ringing at that hour, but it's been a tradition here for years," said Franklintown Road resident Elizabeth Steiner. "I've done it every Christmas for 65 years."
Steiner said the custom began as a part of the old Christian Endeavor movement.