Perry County Heritage Tourism is offering a historic and sometimes spiritual journey as sort of a kickoff to the Christmas season with its annual Christmas Country Church Tour.
The church tour begins on Thursday, Dec. 14 and continues Friday, Dec. 15 from 2-9 p.m. on both nights. The event is a self-guided driving tour that allows participants the chance to visit rural churches decked out in Christmas decorations.
“I love this event because every year it seems like more and more people from farther away come to visit and take part in this,” Heritage Tourism Director Trish Erzfeld said. “It’s a really good feeling to see people enjoy it like they do, especially around the Christmas season. They enjoy the architecture, the traditions and really enjoy talking to the people of the community.”
The 37 churches which make up this year’s tour are spread out among Ste. Genevieve, Bollinger, Perry, Cape Girardeau counties as well as Kaskaskia, Ill.
Each one of the churches on the tour have a great deal of history that visitors are often interested in. All but three churches on the tour are 100 years old, and three have reached the 200-year plateau. Erzfeld noted that those anniversaries are for the buildings and not the congregations.
Some of them have also been key in bringing certain denominations and traditions to the region. For example, St. Mary’s of the Barrens Catholic Church Association of the Miraculous Medal was the first seminary west of the Mississippi River, the Lutheran Heritage Center and Log Cabin College in Altenburg led to the birth of Lutheran Church— Missouri Synod, and the Old McKendree Chapel in Jackson is the oldest Protestant church to be established west of the Mississippi River.
The Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Kaskaskia is currently on their fifth building and is more than one century old. The altar on the church dates to the 1700s. Getting back to each churches historical roots is a big focus for Erzfeld each year during the event.
“We like to share those types of facts and the history of these churches,” Erzfeld said. “We really like to focus on those smaller communities because many of them are dying and if we lose the history in places like that it would be a shame. It goes to show how we value our history in Southeast Missouri.”
The churches will have refreshments to their own discretion and will be decorated to the hilt by the approximately 400 volunteers that are spread out among all the churches.
“We want them to share their traditions and the heritage, whether that be just a simple pine tree or something more,” Erzfeld said. “All the churches go above and beyond. I want this to be fun for the churches too, because a lot of the people who help out are volunteers. We couldn’t do this without them.”
There will be Nativity collections at the Lutheran Heritage Center & Museum and at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal along with a large outside lighted Nativity scene. There will also be live Nativity scenes at Caney Fork Baptist Church both Thursday and Friday from 4pm-8pm and at the Saxon Lutheran Memorial on Friday only.
Christian Recording Artist Jennie Williamson will be performing Christmas Music live inside the Confirmation House at the Saxony Lutheran Memorial in Frohna. There will also be live music at the Shrine from 4-8 p.m. Thursday and 4-7 p.m. on Friday.
Each church on the tour has a registry book that visitors are encouraged to sign. In doing this, can also tell where they are visiting from, giving Perry County Heritage Tourism a better idea of how many people attended and where the attendees are from. Erzfeld estimated that hundreds of people attend this event every year.
“Not everyone that attends the tour is from Perryville,” Erzfeld said. “We have people from all over the country that come and see the tour, many from metropolitan areas. It’s really a cool event and one that I’m always excited about.”
Digital copies of the church map can also be found online at www.visitperrycounty.com or the Christmas Country Church Tour page on Facebook.