Spirit of history comes alive in tour of Johnstown churches

JOHNSTOWN – Ruth Carey of Johnstown’s First Presbyterian Church was in awe of the stained-glass windows in St. John’s Episcopal Church on Saturday.

“These are such beautiful stained-glass windows, but they’re so different, too,” Carey said. “The Presbyterian Church has big pictures of biblical things, but these [at St. John’s Episcopal Church] have smaller pictures that have all of this ornamentation. It’s so fascinating to look at them.”

Carey was one of the 30 people who toured five church sanctuaries and learned about their history Saturday.

“I think that this was an opportunity for not only the people that are in churches to go in and see each other’s churches, but I also think this was an opportunity for people in the community who don’t necessarily go to church anywhere to go in and visit these churches and see what they’re all about and how they started,” she said.

The Johnstown Historical Society organized Saturday’s event. The tour started at Grace Lutheran Church, progressed to Holy Trinity Parish, then went to the First Presbyterian Church, followed by the Hellenic Orthodox Church and ending at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Jahnn Gibson, a member of the historical society, was the brains behind the tour.

“The whole reason this came about was because I was talking to somebody and she was saying how they’ve been tearing down all these beautiful, old churches and I never did get to see the insides of them and it makes me so sad,” Gibson said. “So I decided to have a church tour.”

Gibson said those who participated in the tour got an overview of the churches, their history and any present information on events that occur there.

She said her favorite part of the tour was how participants learned history of the Christian church by visiting all five of the churches.

“The interesting thing is this all started with the Greek church, which was the original Christian church, then the Roman Catholics split off from the Greeks,” Gibson said. “Then Martin Luther got mad because of indulgences, and the idea of ‘pay now sin later,’ he didn’t think that was a great idea, so the Lutheran church split off. Then, when Henry VIII wanted to get a divorce and they wouldn’t let him, the Anglicans split off and the Presbyterians came from that.”

Mother Laurie Garramone of St. John’s taught tourists a variety of things during her service. She told them the name “episcopal” means bishop or overseer because bishops are the overseers of the Episcopal church. Garramone said St. John’s is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany. The church was officially incorporated in 1787. And the eagle that seems almost like a mascot in the building actually symbolizes St. John himself.

Carey said the First Presbyterian Church was the church Elizabeth Cady Stanton went to.

“Elizabeth Cady Stanton describes it in her memoirs that it was very stark and bare,” Carey said. “She talks about it being an unheated building, and you had to take your foot warmers along and the services were hours long and the preachers would talk about predestination. That was sort of a different world back then.”

Garramone thought the tour was an excellent event for the community.

“I think they did this tour on a nice weekend when people have company for Thanksgiving and it gives them something to do,” she said. “And I think that there a lot of people that don’t get the opportunity to visit each other’s churches. How could this be a bad event when churches are opening their doors to the community and saying ‘come on in?’ It’s a good thing.”

The participants in the tour group had different backgrounds and faiths, but they all agreed the stained-glass windows in the church buildings, especially St. John’s, were a sight to behold.

“I suggest coming into these church buildings in the early afternoon or late morning when the sun is shining through the stained glass; it’s so absolutely ethereal,” Carey said. “When you come into these buildings and there are no other lights on and you see the light coming in through these stained-glass windows, I guarantee it will take your breath away.”

Casey Croucher can be reached at ccroucher@leaderherald.com.