“For me, the people and the windows are First Methodist Church,” said Andrews, the church’s senior minister. “It’s impossible for me to think of our church and not think of those windows. They capture the soul of what the church is.”
The brightly colored windows, installed a short time after the sanctuary was dedicated in 1926, depict different aspects of the life of Jesus through events in his ministry.
“The culmination is in the Last Supper,” Andrews said. “That’s the big window over the north part of the sanctuary.”
The windows are priceless. However, Alan Brock, longtime chairman of the church’s Building and Grounds Committee, began to see deterioration in their condition over the years.
“We noticed real problems with bulging glass and cracking,” he said. “There was even a rag stuffed in place of one missing piece.”
The leadership of the church discussed the window situation for several years and concluded that repairs had to be made.
“The sanctuary windows have been compromised by heat and dirt,” Andrews wrote to his congregation. “The glass panes are in jeopardy because of chipping and hardening of the substance that holds glass to frame. And the windows have accumulated many years of dust and grime that come with urban living.”
After a study, the Building and Grounds Committee contracted with Bovard Studio, of Fairfield, Iowa, to chemically clean and repair the windows.
“They had the best credentials of anyone we looked at,” said Brock, who is overseeing the project.
Alfredo “Fred” Reyna, field crew supervisor for Bovard, said that one of the biggest problems is that in the 1960s, the windows were covered with Plexiglas.
“It was not a ventilated system,” he said.
The area between the Plexiglas and stained glass would heat up, and the stained glass, being the weaker of the two, suffered damage, Reyna said.
The Bovard project includes removing the Plexiglas, cleaning and repairing the windows from the inside and out and replacing the Plexiglas with a protective covering, quarter-inch clear plate-glass.
“It is a huge project,” Andrews said. The church has 79 stained-glass windows including seven large sanctuary windows. Cost of the six-week project is $165,000.
“We first thought we would have to take a staged approach,” Andrews said. “But we were able to come up with the money to do it in one fell swoop.”
The windows were designed by A.A. Leyendecker. “He was from a family of artisans in Bavaria,” said church member Ronald Garay, author of a church history, A Cross at River’s Edge: First United Methodist Church Baton Rouge, published in 2009.
The windows were crafted at the Kansas City Stained Glass Co. in Kansas City, Mo.
The six side windows in the sanctuary cost $750 each. The window depicting the Last Supper cost $1,500. They were originally given as memorials by prominent members of the congregation.
C.W. Meier accompanied the windows to Baton Rouge and supervised their installation.
Meier explained in a State-Times interview published on Sept. 4, 1926, that the windows are genuine stained glass “because no painting is done except in the features of the figures.”
“The rich shading is baked into the glass by passing it through two fires,” Meier said. “The rippling of garments or waving of hair is produced by increasing the thickness of the glass at the point desired.”
The rippling and layering of the glass is similar to the method used in the famous Tiffany windows.
“That’s what made Tiffany unique. They used glass instead of painting,” Reyna said. “We commented on that. We wondered if the windows were Tiffany.”
The colors in the windows are particularly brilliant.
“If you look at the accompanying glass in the windows, you can see that it really sets off the color of the central image,” Garay said. “The windows contain lots of flowers, a lot of symbolism.”
The Rev. Susie Thomas, an associate pastor at First Methodist, said that historically elaborate windows were put in churches “to tell the experience of the Christian faith to a mainly illiterate society.”
They were considered part of the experience of worship.
“The human experience is such that we yearn for connections and realize that words wouldn’t do that for us, so artistic symbols came as a way to express the deeper selves, the deeper journey between ourselves and God,”Andrews said.
The project has made the colors in the windows even more vivid. More light now pours into the sanctuary. The congregation can see how priceless and irreplaceable the windows are.
“When you think of sanctuaries, none are designed in a very efficient way,”Andrews said. “They were designed for an experience, entering into the largeness of God.”
Information from: The Advocate, http://www.2theadvocate.com
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