On Friday, Dec. 8, at 6 p.m., 17 churches in the downtown Fort Wayne area will open their doors to visitors who want to explore a little bit of Fort Wayne history. Some churches will be decorated for Christmas, offering the perfect time to snap photos, too.
The tour will include a variety of denominations. Each church will provide tour guides and perhaps some live music and snacks. “Its more like an open house,” organizer Cornelia Schulz explained. Visitors will need to plan for their own transportation, to get from one church to the next. But it’s very much a come-as-you-wish type of tour — visitors can stop at just one church, or they can try to visit all seventeen.
This is the second year of the City of Churches tour. Last year, 12 congregations participated, and Schulz was very happy with the result. “Between 500-700 people came out last time — and it was a chilly night,” she said.
Tours of churches are a European tradition, called Lange Nacht Der Kirchen — aka the “Long Night of the Churches.” According to Schulz, these tours are held in Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria, and the churches there stay open all night. “I’m from Germany, and they’ve had those [tours] for [the longest time],” Schulz said.
When her husband was called to the ministry, Schulz came to the United States. After Schulz came to Fort Wayne, she was impressed by the history and culture preserved by the local churches. “I was just blown away,” she said.
Currently a member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church downtown, Schulz and the rest of the congregation were affected by the major renovation that Emmanuel went through last year. From installing a different organ to repainting the sanctuary, the church underwent a major overhaul.
And this led Schulz to wonder: what is in other churches? She started discussing the thought with her Sunday School group. And then she started working on a tour plan.
Schulz contacted 30 congregations to see if they would open their doors to a tour. Twelve responded positively, and the visitor turnout was better than she — or any of the pastors — had hoped. While Emanuel was unable to provide live music due to the renovation at the time, other churches, like Trinity Episcopal, did have live music. That also garnered rave reviews.
In fact, Schulz figures that some of the people who went on the tours went back to their own congregations and asked, “Hey, why aren’t we on this tour?” Five more churches are on the list this year.