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Church Walk brings largest crowd in recent memory

IRONTON — Libby Austin, of South Point, had never participated in the annual Christmas Candlelight Tour of Churches before. But she made the trip Friday night with some 40 other members of South Point Church of the Nazarene.

“One of our church members lives in Ironton and she invited us to her home and to the church walk,” Austin said.

The 40 newcomers swelled the ranks of the church walk to more than 100, and both ministers and members of the Lawrence County Historical Society, which organizes the yearly event, marveled at the size of the crowd this year.

The tour of churches is meant to give area residents an inside look at some of the city’s oldest and most historic houses of worship and some reflections of the Christmas season.

“As we enter the Christmas season, let us be mindful that Christ is the reason for the season,” the Rev. James Stowe, pastor of Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, said. This was Stowe’s introduction not only to the church walk but also to the community. He became pastor of Quinn Chapel church last month.

“My prayer for you all as you go from congregation to congregation is that this will be a time of spiritual refreshment for you,” First Baptist Church pastor, the Rev. Dennis Strawn, said.

Strawn’s reflection centered on II Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.” (KJV) Strawn said the gift of Christ is the gift that means everything.

The Rev. Scott Jenkins, pastor of Gateway Baptist Church, noted that the star the wise men followed on their route to find the newborn king stopped at exactly the right place and exactly the right time to worship that one child who was, in fact, not just any child.

“What’s amazing is, it was not only his star, he made the star,” Jenkins said.

The Rev. Wayne Young, pastor of First United Methodist Church, spoke of the prophecy that foretold not only the birth of Jesus Christ but the beginning of his ministry and the change his life would have on the world.

“Christ has come, Christ will come again and in this Advent season let us prepare our hearts for his coming,” Young said.

The Rev. David Ritchie, pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, noted that while each church on the church walk has its own way of worship, each church is part of the body of Christ.

“And what we are called to do is proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Ritchie said. He encouraged participants to take time during the Advent season to prepare their hearts for Christ.

Along with reflections on Christmas came lessons on history.

Joe McCollister, elder of First Presbyterian Church, told the crowd his congregation began in 1850 with 14 members. The church cost $5,000 and was built without modern tools. The window in the back of the church was donated in memory of missionary John Milton Campbell.

The Rev. David Huffman, pastor of the Ironton Catholic Community, explained St. Lawrence O’Toole Church was built to serve Irish immigrants who came to Lawrence County seeking work in the pig iron furnaces. The church was named in honor of a prominent Irish bishop.

And along with the history and reflections on Christmas were gentle invitations to visit again, for a regular church service and not just that one Saturday of the year.

“If you get the urge to come back tomorrow morning. …” Richard Walton, of Christ Episcopal Church, encouraged.

His invitation got a chuckle, but Walton reminded the visitors that at one time, church attendance was not an option — in long-ago England the church was very much the center of the community and “you did go to church. They’d drag you out of your bed,” he said.

At each church were musical selections and afterward, participants were invited back to the museum for refreshments.