"We bring children into the church and use the stained glass windows to tell them religious stories," said Rev. Glenn Boisclair, pastor of the Grace Lutheran Church. "The kids really love them."
Like the other houses of worship on the tour, Grace Lutheran has its roots in the German immigrant community that populated the Heights near the turn of the last century.
"The churches, St. Nicholas Roman Catholic, Grace Lutheran, Second Reformed and the Mount Sinai Synagogue, were all built by the German community between 1900 and 1910," said John Gomez, president of the Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy. "At the time, the German and Jewish communities were thriving in Jersey City. The glass windows vary from church to church. They were installed between 1900 and the 1930s, when the Germans began to move to the 'burbs and Irish began to be a presence in Jersey City."
Grace Lutheran Church, in its present configuration, is the second church to stand at the Summit Avenue site, according to Boisclair.
"The old church was built in 1898," Boisclair explained. "The new building was built in the 1920s, which is when the windows were installed."
Gomez noted that Grace Lutheran has fine examples of the Art Deco style, created by the J&R Lamb Studios, a contemporary of the famous Tiffany Studios.
"The windows are distinctive from all the others in the area," said Gomez. "The Art Deco look features lots of straight lines in its figures, which are demonstrated in the rays of light in the windows at Grace Lutheran."
Boisclair noted that much of the stained glass in his church has small symbols located in corners of the windows.
"There is a rabbit near the foot of Jesus in the resurrection window," said Boisclair. "A lot of people come in and say they want to sit next to the bunny."
Boisclair said he has children from the congregation identify and explain the symbols in the windows as part of their religious education.
St. Nicholas R.C. Church harks back to an earlier style in stained glass design, according to Gomez.
"The windows in St. Nick's were created by Mayer and Co., a company based in Munich and also New York, which is still in operation," Gomez said. "They did a lot of work on churches in Jersey City."
Contrasting the Art Deco look of Grace Lutheran, Gomez noted the stain glass in St. Nicholas took its models from German art history.
"The figures in the windows look like characters from paintings by the old German masters," said Gomez. "The windows reflect the social history of the congregation. The fact that they could put in such windows, shows that they were healthy enough to afford such windows."
"The windows are more than 95 years old," said Rev. Kevin Carter, pastor of St. Nicholas Church. "So there isn't anyone here that goes back to their installation. They do remind parishioners of the origins of the church."
Carter added that visitors to the church are impressed with the windows and parish has always been proud of the windows.
"Mount Sinai Synagogue, built in 1908, has a Moorish-Romanesque look," said Gomez, noting the synagogue has two onion domes, not seen often in Jersey City architecture.
"The windows in Mount Sinai have the Star of David in them," said Gomez. "The congregation has dwindled in the last few years, so services are held in the basement. The main section, where the stained glass windows are located, is unused because of a leaky roof."
On the tour were a number of Muslim students from The Academy I School, where Gomez is an English teacher.
"The students saw the condition of the synagogue and volunteered to clean up," said Gomez. "Ever since those students joined the historic walking tours, they have wanted to help the community."
The final stop on the walking tour was Second Reformed Church, which Gomez described as a "time capsule."
"Unlike the other buildings on the tour, there have been no changes made to the church," said Gomez. "The stained glass windows represent the American style. The windows were executed by the Henry Birkenstock Company, which is a German company."
Gomez said the American style in stained glass is characterized by lighter, clearer colors.
"They resemble the colors you might see in a Georgia O'Keefe painting," Gomez commented. "Each of the wings on the angels has a different color. There's nothing symbolic about that. It's just that the artist did it that way."
Gomez noted that as new immigrant groups move into the Heights area, they make their mark in the architecture of the area.
"Right now, we have a lot of Hispanics and Asians in the Heights," Gomez commented. "In a 100 years, we'll have walking tours of the churches and temples they built."
The Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy is a non-profit organization formed to preserve, protect and promote Jersey City's historic sites, buildings, objects and districts. The Conservancy conducts walking tours throughout Jersey City, sponsors historical art and photo exhibits, and publishes preservation-related material. For further information on the Conservancy, go to www.jclandmarks.org.