Houses of faith
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 14, 2005
A moment to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas.
That was the way many described Saturday evening's annual Candlelight Christmas Walking Tour of Churches. In spite of the rain and chilly temperatures, approximately 150 people made their way along candle-lit paths to visit one Ironton church after another - eight in all. Some came looking for a bit of Christmas spirit, others were interested in the city's history. Others came in search of a more spiritual side to the holiday season.
A little history
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The eight churches on this year's tour - First Baptist, Christ Episcopal, First United Methodist, First Presbyterian, St. Paul's Lutheran, St. Lawrence O'Toole Catholic, Gateway Baptist and Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal - are among the oldest structures in the city. Many of the city's founders and their families helped build and then worshipped in these churches. The structures are themselves a testament to the city's past.
“This church was built in 1892 and dedicated in 1893 and the day it was dedicated 1,500 people were here,” said the Rev. Wayne Young, pastor of First Methodist Church.
“The church cost $52,000. Nowadays you can't put a roof on for that.”
The Rev. Mike Poole, pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, spoke briefly about his church's history and church members handed out booklets published last year in honor of the church's 100th anniversary.
With an eye toward the future, some church leaders took the opportunity to invite visitors to become regulars.
“If you don't have any place to go this Sunday or any other Sunday, we'd love to have you here,” said Richard Walton, member of Christ Episcopal Church.
For many, the church tour was a first-time experience. Sharon Haines of Russell, Ky. and Linda Blair
of Ironton had wanted to attend the church walk last year but were given the wrong date for the event. They came this year.
“I love it,” Haines said, when asked what she thought of the tour.
For Kathy Ward of Ironton this was an opportunity to show her husband, Melvin, a little of the city's history. He moved here from North Carolina when the couple married in May.
Others take the tour nearly every year. For Jim and Kim Malone of Kitts Hill the church walk is a family tradition. This year they came with their 9-year-old daughter, Maddie, and family members Doris Robinson of Ironton and Karen Sands of Pedro.
“It gets us in the mood for Christmas, ready for the season,” Jim Malone said. “It's kind of a family thing we do when we can, if our schedules permit.” Malone said he most likes the chance to stop and reflect on the true meaning of the season - the spiritual one.
“We kind of get bombarded with the hustle and bustle and commercialism. This is a time to reflect on Christ,” he said.
Reason for the season
“I pray that during this evening's event that each and everyone is drawn to Him who gave His life that we may have life everlasting,” the Rev. Dennis Strawn prayed in his prayer at the beginning of the church walk at First Baptist Church.
Strawn said he hoped that those who came “got a touch of going back to Bethlehem and celebrating the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
It was indeed a touch of Bethlehem that tourgoers received as they made their way from church to church, hearing segments of scripture along the way, from Isaiah's prophesy of the coming of Jesus to the gospel of Luke's account of the birth of the baby in a manger in Bethlehem.
The Rev. Harold Demus, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, spoke of the theme for this year's event, “The Coming of Our King,” during his message.
“At this time of year we look behind to Bethlehem when the Kings of Kings lay in a manger but we also look forward to the future coming of our King that has been promised in the Word of God,” he said, referring to the second coming of Christ.
The Rev. Anthony Batt, associate pastor of St. Lawrence O'Toole Catholic Church, reflected on the character of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
“Mary was the greatest woman who ever lived,” he said. “She bore Jesus, the son of God. Gabriel addressed her by saying ‘Hail Mary, full of Grace.' She was perfect, without sin, someone we should all aspire to be like.”
The Rev. Melonie Valentine, pastor of Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, spoke of that first Christmas when a young girl and her husband-to-be fashioned a temporary motel room out of a stable so the young woman could give birth.
“It was a simple scene that first Christmas, a rough room, a young couple, nothing but a feeding trough to put their child in. With family and friends far away, there is no one to help them. Not exactly a Hallmark moment, a Kodak scene, yet this rustic scene marked the greatest event in all of humanity,” she said.
Yet in this simple scene, church leaders said, that mankind can find the answers to life's most challenging problems.
“People are hungry. People are hurting. People are hopeless and people are desperate in many ways,” the Rev. Scott Jenkins, pastor of Gateway Baptist Church, said. But in coming to know the child whose birth we celebrate, he said, people can find hope for those modern day ailments.
“If you're going to make the coming of the King personal,” he said, “make it the person of Jesus Christ.”