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Air force architecture

Doors Open lets Baptist churchgoers tell story of how U.S. military paid for the ceiling

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Rev. Joe Welty, pastor of the Broadway-First Baptist Church, welcomes visitors during Doors Open Winnipeg.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Rev. Joe Welty, pastor of the Broadway-First Baptist Church, welcomes visitors during Doors Open Winnipeg. Photo Store

When the doors open at a Wolseley-area church today, expect to hear some unconventional stories about the traditional architecture in the century-old building.

"In the 1960s we had our ceiling replaced by the American military," says Rev. Joe Welty of the interior damage sustained to the original plaster at Broadway-First Baptist Church at 790 Honeyman Ave.

"The sonic boom (from a fighter plane) actually caused the plaster to collapse."

The English Gothic-style church, which boasts a cantilevered balcony, timber-framed trusses and leaded glass windows, is one of 16 religious sites welcoming visitors in Winnipeg's Doors Open weekend.

"The criteria aren't just that it is old," says Cindy Tugwell of Heritage Winnipeg, the sponsor of this weekend's free architectural and heritage tours.

"It is architecturally significant and does it have an interesting story?"

Welty thinks his church qualifies on all counts. In addition to the connection to the U.S. military, the oldest Baptist congregation in Western Canada sings its Sunday hymns accompanied by a movie-house pipe organ.

But the grandeur -- and the novelties -- of the building aren't what prompted Welty to sign up his church for Doors Open this year.

"It's something good for our congregation. There's something good to remember we are (called) to be open," he says.

The annual event also brings people into buildings they may have driven by for years, but never seen inside, says the tour guide for the Ukrainian Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral of Saints Vladimir and Olga.

"When they come in, they are just mesmerized by the interior beauty of it," says Margaret Saray, now in her fourth year of leading tours at the domed cathedral at 115 McGregor St.

"Everything is painted in our traditional colours and is just a wonderful representation of the Ukrainian culture, heritage and religion."

Saray says the interest shown by visitors reminds her to appreciate her regular place of worship, which is adorned by stained-glass windows by Leo Mol, numerous icons and a grand chandelier installed last year.

"It makes me feel very special that I can talk to people about the cathedral."

And people who visit these grand places of worship may feel moved, too, says the rector of one of the city's oldest parishes.

"It is important for many traditions that we have sacred spaces and we hunger for spaces that acknowledge we participate in a reality which is much larger than ourselves," says Rev. Paul Johnson of the Cathedral Church of St. John, located at 135 Anderson Ave.

He says visitors respond to the beauty and history of the Anglican cathedral, the fourth building on the site, and appreciate its historical significance.

"This is a very important and holy place to the people who built it and maintain it. We simply have to acknowledge it."

What visitors may also have to acknowledge is that visiting a church as a tourist might be a moving, even spiritual experience, says Welty, who says soaring ceilings and architectural details were designed to draw in worshippers into a place of reverence and awe.

"It causes you to be quiet and still. It draws your eye up. It causes you to feel small and that there's value in your smallness."

Doors Open runs Saturday, May 31, and Sunday, June 1, at venues across the city. Some churches are only open on Saturday. Check the website at www.doorsopenwinnipeg.ca for hours.

brenda@suderman.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 31, 2014 D15

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