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Religious sites: Keeping the faith

Courtesy The First Church Of Christ, Scientist

No matter our faith, for most, visiting a place of worship is settling to our souls. After walking through the doors, we are instantly awed by the sacred surroundings, and we seem compelled to speak only in hushed tones.

Visiting places of worship will not only settle bank members’ souls but offer poignant educations on different religions and what humankind has endured to stay true to its various beliefs. From a rustic wooden structure in a forest setting to a brilliant white dome carved like lace, many places of worship are architectural masterpieces.

These icons welcome bank groups of all faiths to enjoy not only guided tours but spiritual services.

The First Church of Christ, Scientists
Also known as the Mother Church, the world headquarters for the Christian Science Church sits on 14 acres in downtown Boston and showcases a variety of edifices.

The Mary Baker Eddy Library, named after the founder of Christian Science, includes the exhibit “The Mapparium,” a three-story stained-glass globe. “Built in 1935, it’s actually a walk-in globe, and only 25 visitors are allowed in at a time. Inside, guests are treated to a 10-minute video from voices around the world — there is nothing like it anywhere else in the world,” said Sharon Frey, assistant media manager.

The Original Edifice, a granite Romanesque-style church built in 1894, features stained-glass windows of Bible stories. The Extension, a Byzantine-style church built in 1906, was constructed to accommodate the thousands of worshipers who attend the church.

“The Extension also is home to one of the nation’s largest Aeolian-Skinner pipe organs. It has 13,295 pipes,” said Frey.

Adult group members and their grandchildren will also appreciate the Plaza, which offers a place of respite with a 686-foot-long reflecting pool and an interactive children’s fountain.


Chapel in the Hills
Rapid City, South Dakota
Nestled at the foot of the Black Hills, the Chapel in the Hills from the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is an exact reproduction of the Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway. Visitors are welcome to participate in nondenominational worship services during the summer months at this unusual wooden structure, which was built in 1969 as the home of the Lutheran Vespers radio ministry.

“Visitors are first greeted at the Stabbur, an authentic grass-roofed house that was built in Norway and serves as the visitor center and gift shop. Also on the grounds is a log cabin museum, originally built by a Norwegian prospector who came to the Black Hills during the gold rush,” said Michelle Thomson, tourism director for the Rapid City Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Groups are encouraged to walk the grounds on a guided tour. “The grounds include a prayer walk that offers a beautiful Black Hills feel with statues along the way. Benches offer places to pray and meditate,” said Thomson.


Baltimore Basilica

Aptly called America’s First Cathedral and an edifice Pope John Paul II referred to as “the worldwide symbol of religious freedom,” Baltimore Basilica is in the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood just a few blocks from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Reopened in 2006 after a major two-year renovation and just in time to celebrate its 200th anniversary, the church is close to its original design as envisioned by America’s first bishop, John Carroll, according to Monee Cottman, travel media manager for Visit Baltimore.

“Some of the most dramatic elements are the historic translucent glass windows in the nave and the 24 skylights in the main dome,” said Cottman.

The church also includes replicas of the original lighting fixtures and the original paint scheme.

“The church has so much history,” Cottman said. “I’m always taken aback by the three levels that indicated where people would sit depending on their status. The slaves would sit in the balcony; but at the time, it was unusual that they could worship in a church like this at all.”


Community of Christ Temple and Auditorium
Independence, Missouri
After walking hundreds of miles, the first members of the Church of Christ, also known as Mormons, arrived in Independence in 1831, and a long history of economic, political and religious struggles ensued.

The temple, completed in 1993, offers a 1,600-seat sanctuary and a 5,700-pipe organ. “With a silver spire piercing the sky, the temple is visible from nearly any location in Independence. Visitors also enjoy a Japanese meditation garden and a worshiper’s path with carved-glass panels and granite fountains,” said Janeen Aggen, spokeswoman for the City of Independence Tourism.

The green-domed auditorium building features a video presentation and a tour of the conference chamber that includes a 6,334-pipe Aeolian Skinner organ, one of the largest church organs in the United States.

Independence is also home to the Mormon Visitors Center where exhibits and photos offer poignant stories from the 1830s and tell about the breakup of the Mormons into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is headquartered in Salt Lake City, and the Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose headquarters is in Independence.

“Much of what you see here is what you would see in Salt Lake City,” said Aggen.


Touro Synagogue
Newport, Rhode Island
In the center of Newport’s Old Quarter, Touro Synagogue is unchanged since its dedication in 1763 and is the oldest standing Jewish house of worship in the United States. Designed by Peter Harrison, one of America’s first architects, this Georgian structure is considered one of the most architecturally distinguished buildings of 18th-century America.

George Washington’s letter to the congregation in 1790 that has come to symbolize freedom of conscience, combined with the building’s involvement during the Revolutionary War, also make the synagogue historically significant.

A new visitors center greets groups after a walk through Patriot’s Park. Visitors are encouraged to also take a walking tour through Colonial Jewish Newport, which offers a Colonial town center and old, narrow lanes.

“The city of Newport was founded on religious freedom, and groups may also want to include a visit to our Trinity Episcopal Church and our Quaker Meeting House. Both offer wonderful ambiance and additional history to our community,” said Kathryn Farrington, vice president of marketing for the Newport and Bristol Convention and Visitors Bureau.