FORTY FORT — Wyoming Valley residents will again have the opportunity to tour historic churches this year thanks to organizer Jan Lokuta.
The tour, in its 11th year, originally entitled “The Tour of Historic Greater Pittston,” will this year be including to Forty Fort and Swoyersville.
Still, Lokuta said the heart of the tour remains in the Pittston area.
Sitting on the steps in front of the Forty Fort Meeting House, where the tour will start on June 26, a smiling Lokuta said, “From here to Pittston is about five miles.”
Lokuta has described the tour as being the result of an annual epiphany.
He received that epiphany for this year’s tour simply as he was walking near the river in Forty Fort on July 4.
“Each year, they have an open house here at the meeting house on the holiday,” he said. “So, I stopped in.”
Lokuta asked the docent who was staffing the event if it would be possible for the location to be included in the tour.
The rest is history. Well, at least this year’s history.
The tour will progress from the Meeting House to the Forty Fort Presbyterian Church and the Stella Presbyterian Church, both on Wyoming Avenue and both of which grew out of the Forty Fort Meeting House.
Then, moving to Swoyersville, the tour will stop at St. Elizabeth Seton Roman Catholic Church as well as St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church to consider the history, art, and spiritual traditions of those parishes, which trace their roots to the wave of immigrants who made the Wyoming Valley their home.
The tour will conclude at The Forty Fort United Methodist Church, which also has its roots in the Forty Fort Meeting House.
Lokuta said the event brings together both art and history, two perspectives that can never truly be separated.
He also stresses the sense of culture that churches generally embody.
Speaking specifically of the two Catholic churches included in the tour, he said that when those of European descent came to America, they often not only needed spiritual support, but a place to reinforce the culture of their homeland.
Lokuta said the union meeting house was the oldest building in the Wyoming Valley, built for worship in 1804.
The building was shared by several congregations and emphasized its Sunday school program.
“The original settlers emphasized education,” he said.
As Lokuta spoke on a recent day, making his way from the meeting house through the cemetery, his knowledge of history and his love for art were evident.
As he spoke of tiny graves in one area of the cemetery, he mentioned not only the factors that might have contributed to such early deaths, but the rakish placement of the gravestones, much like children running in different directions.
The tour historically attracts a core group whose love for church history brings them back again and again, often with a friend.
Lokuta said he hopes this year’s new location will foster an expansion of the event, bringing event loyalists and first time attenders together to look both back and forward as they make their way through religious landmarks.
Lokuta hopes to increase area residents’ appreciation of diversity in art and culture, with respect for each other’s beliefs and value of the history of the area.
He often quotes the words of St. Augustine: “Unity in what is essential, diversity in what is not essential and, charity in all things.”
Reach Geri Gibbons at 570-991-6117 or on Twitter @TLGGibbons.