A few years ago, Kit Eilertson of Merrimac looked around at the success of various tours of historic homes in Wisconsin and came up with an idea: Why not do the same with historic churches?
The result was the 2010 tour of historic churches in Baraboo, featuring six downtown congregations founded between 1841 and 1874. It was a hit, as hundreds of people spent a Sunday afternoon dipping in and out of the historic structures.
The same six churches will offer up a second look next Sunday. Why wasn’t there a tour last year?
“We didn’t want it to get dull and dry,” said Eilertson, a member of First Congregational United Church of Christ, one of the churches on the tour. “We thought it would just be more interesting and fresh if we skipped a year.”
Also keeping it fresh this time: The tour will explore the role that music plays in worship. Each church will offer live music, followed by a community hymn sing at the end of the afternoon on the city’s courthouse square.
The goal is not to proselytize, organizers say.
“Whether you like architecture or history or music, this is the place to be,” said Orris Smith, a member of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, another church on the tour. “And the price is right. It’s free.”
The other four churches involved are Trinity Episcopal Church, First Presbyterian Church, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and First United Methodist Church.
“There are a lot of dramatic differences among us, but we’re able to work together, as long as people don’t start talking about how their church hierarchies work,” Eilertson said.
Smith thinks people have a natural curiosity about how their neighbors worship. The tour gives people permission to snoop.
“There’s a stigma about going into other people’s churches,” he said. “It’s something you just don’t do. But here’s a day when you can do that — and everyone’s doing it with you.”
All six churches will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. The hymn sing follows at 4 p.m. in the center of town.
Participants can start at any one of the six churches. They’ll get a map and a list of times for the live music. All six churches are within walking distance, but taking such an approach may not be practical.
“Six churches is a lot to visit in three hours, especially if you get talking to people,” Eilertson said.
Two years ago on the tour, First United Methodist Church thrilled children by letting them ring the church’s historic bell, which arrived by wagon in the 1800s. The church will be offering the same opportunity again this time.
The Rev. Donna Miller suggests adult supervision. “The little ones actually go up with the rope if someone’s not holding on to them.”
Religion-related story ideas? Contact Doug Erickson at firstname.lastname@example.org.