A lot of ministers say they want people to stop and smell the roses.
The Rev. Dale Dusman says he wants people to stop and look at the churches.
"What's interesting about the daily traffic on St. Paul Street is that you have all these people going by in their cars and they aren't aware of the beautiful churches they're passing," says Dusman, the pastor of St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church, at 1900 St. Paul.
Of course, Dusman numbers his own church among those impressive places of worship that downtown traffic jockeys routinely ignore.
St. Mark's and three other structures within a few blocks -- Seventh Baptist Church at St. Paul Street and North Ave., St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church at 2013 St. Paul St. and Lovely Lane United Methodist Church at 2200 St. Paul St. -- will be featured in a walking tour to be led by Dusman Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon.
Dusman hopes the two-hour tour, titled "Sacred Spaces: The Mid-Town Churches," will help the participants appreciate the architectural glories of the four historic churches in the Charles-North section of downtown.
Characterized by rounded Romanesque exteriors -- except Seventh Baptist with its classic pointed arches and spires of Gothic design -- the four churches date from the late 1800s.
In those days, the area was a posh suburbanesque enclave of the well-heeled. They saw to it that they would praise the Lord in the best buildings with the finest appointments money could buy.
Each church is decorated with dazzling stained-glass windows, including Tiffany windows among the interior highlights of St. Mark's and Lovely Lane. St. Michael's "Te Deum window," a huge multi-paneled work produced in 1915, faces St. Paul Street. It depicts numerous holy figures, from Moses to St. Polycarp.
"The history of the [Christian] church is in that window," says Dusman.
Lovely Lane, designed by the famed American architect Stanford White, was constructed in the mid-1880s. Its architectural wonders include a 186-foot tower, built without external scaffolding and still visible throughout the midtown area.
Both St. Mark's and St. Michael's recently removed a century's worth of grime from their stone exteriors. The work has left the facades of the churches looking almost new.
"People stop me in the street to tell me they had no idea how beautiful our church looked under all that gunk," says Dusman.
The walking tour will begin at St. Mark's, then head three blocks north to Lovely Lane. After crossing St. Paul Street, Dusman and company will stop at St. Michael's, then cross St. Paul again to wrap things up at Seventh Baptist.
Dusman says he is acting as "a sort of emcee" on the tour: "As we make our stops, there will be someone at each church to do a more detailed presentation than I'm probably able to."
At St. Mark's, however, the pastor is sure to burst with information, and with pride in the 93-year-old church, which boasts one of the most striking interiors of any religious structure in Baltimore.
Almost all of the sanctuary was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the New York glass and jewelry artist. In addition to the three Tiffany windows, the Byzantine interior includes dramatic arches and a high ceiling stenciled with intricate vine patterns and more than 1,500 crosses. The dominant colors of red, blue, green and gold create a festive feeling that is not generally associated with Lutheran churches.
"It's a passionate room, and Lutherans are not known for passion," Dusman says with a loud laugh. "This looks more like an Eastern Orthodox church. But the church had a well-to-do congregation when all this work was done. They were worldly, well-traveled, sophisticated people, and they wanted something grand to worship in."
Still, some might question whether such ornateness is compatible with the concepts of Christian simplicity and humility.
Dusman counters, "I think people want to feel uplifted out of the ordinary when they go to church. A church like this can do that."
Sponsored by Baltimore Heritage, a local historical and architectural preservation group, the tour will cost $5 for Baltimore Heritage members, $10 for non-members. Call 433-7985 for more details.