Faith in the community

House of Worship Tour invites residents to visit Westminster-area institutions Holidays in the County

December 24, 2006|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Westminster-area houses of worship have decked their halls with a few extra boughs of holly in preparation for a jolly public reception Saturday.

An array of denominations and groups - Lutherans and Latter-day Saints, United Methodists and Unitarian Universalists - will make up the holiday procession, many welcoming questions about their respective denominations and groups as well as showcasing their halls, meeting houses and sanctuaries.

That's just a taste of this year's holiday House of Worship Tour, an event organized by the nondenominational Shepherd's Staff, the Community Foundation of Carroll County and the Tourism Council of Carroll County Inc.

Now in its second year, the tour serves as a fundraiser for the three groups.

The 14 sites - which can be viewed at visitors' leisure between noon and 5 p.m. - offer tours, refreshment and, in some cases, entertainment.

Guests can sip hot cider and mingle with the Quakers of Pipe Creek Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, take in live music at Sandy Mount United Methodist Church, enjoy an organ recital at St. Paul's United Church of Christ, or join a tour of St. Mary's Evangelical Lutheran Church, led by a guide in 19th-century attire.

And this time around, they can choose to have dinner between the tour and evening holiday concert, said Kathy Brown, director of Shepherd's Staff.

The event also gives churches and other houses the opportunity to meet people who don't usually step inside their walls.

"You ride by something, a church or a site, and you don't know what's in it. You don't know the people, you don't know what they think," Brown said. "Knowing about everyone's denominations and sharing your message is a good thing."

For the Rev. Marty Kuchma, pastor of St. Paul's United Church of Christ, the tour highlights the "richness of churches" in the area, while also informing people of their existence.

"Part of the challenge for the United Church of Christ is letting people know we're here," Kuchma said.

Each house of worship expressed a desire to impart something, Brown said, "whether it was the history, what they do, their music."

"They all have an individuality, and sharing that individuality ... is important," she said.

Indeed, each site appears to have something special to offer. There are the Old Stone Church and graveyard belonging to the Church of the Ascension, a live nativity at the Meadow Branch Church of the Brethren, a history display at Benjamin's-Krider's United Church of Christ.

"We're looking forward to it," said the Rev. Glen Arnold of Sandy Mount United Methodist, a new addition to the circuit. The congregation has plans for extra poinsettias and information on the church's history, he said.

Bill Atwater, a clerk at Pipe Creek Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers, expressed similar anticipation.

"It was just such a rewarding experience," Atwater said, referring to last year's tour, in which the Quakers also took part. "All of us who managed to participate just seemed to get so much out of it."

More than 300 people visited the sites on the first tour, Brown said. This year, the 14 stops were selected based on responses to letters sent to "every synagogue, mosque, church" or other house of worship, said Audrey Cimino, executive director of the Community Foundation.

"It's really a way of embracing all people, all denominations and having a lovely day," Cimino said.

The event also takes visitors on an informal historical walk through Westminster and neighboring towns, as many of the places of worship date back a century or more.

"Many of the churches have historic value and historic components to them, and are really a reflection of the history of this area," said the Rev. Helen Armiger of St. Paul's United Methodist Church.

A concert - and supper, for those who sign up for it - follows the day's tours. Scheduled performers, as varied as the participants in the house-of-worship lineup, include a Celtic harpist, a Korean men's ensemble and a Baha'i faith music group, said Sue Thomas, a Shepherd's Staff volunteer and member of Westminster United Methodist Church, where both the dinner and concert will be held.

Brown said she hopes the event, still in its infant years, will grow into a fixture.

"It could eventually become a tourist event for Carroll County, a destination for people to come to visit the sites and, I think, get a flavor of the community," Brown said.

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

The tour will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are available at The Shepherd's Staff and other locations. Call 410-857-5944 for information. The rain date will be Jan. 6.

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