It started with a one hundred year old congregation moving into a new church building after an earthquake destroyed the old one. These weren’t people of great wealth or prestige so the new building, by necessity, was a simple rectangular design, the sanctuary paneled in light birchwood, the high windows with clear textured glass allowing floods of muted natural light to stream in even on cloudy days. It was a pleasant enough place to worship, well-lit and airy.
Then a new pastor arrived–a man well-traveled, well-read with a keen artist’s eye and a mind able to mix together a palette of history, colors and words. He could see what others had not in the empty canvas of the huge space. What he envisioned for the sanctuary was to enhance the worship experience through the illustration of Life’s passage, of people growing and changing in God’s glory. Any worshipper entering the sanctuary would become part of the woven tapestry of color cast by a series of stained glass windows.
Six large symmetrical panels of divided narrow vertical windows lined both upper outer walls leading up to the altar. In our pastor’s design, these were to become stained glass representations of the various stages of life from young to old. Our pastor recruited would-be artisans from the congregation to be the primary stained glass workers, teaching them how to precisely cut and fit the glass pieces. Each church member had an opportunity to choose and place a pane matching his or her stage of life, to become a permanent part of the portrait of this diverse church family. The new windows were constructed from back to front over the course of a year, all by volunteer effort, until the transformation was complete from simple functional space of wood and light to an encompassing work of art, inclusive for all who entered. Mosaics of colored sections represented the transition through life, moving from childhood in the windows at the entrance, on to adolescence, then to young adulthood, moving to middle age, and then finally to the elder years nearest the altar.
Rainbows of color crisscrossed the pews and aisles, starting with pale and barely defined green and yellow at the outset, blending into a blossom of blue, then becoming a startling fervor of red, fading into a tranquil purple past the center, and lastly immersed in the warmth of orange as one approached the brown of the wood paneled altar. Depending on where one chose to sit, the light bearing a particular color combination was cast on open pages of scripture, or favorite hymns, or on the skin and clothing of the people, reflecting the essence of that life phase. Included in the design was the seemingly random but intentional scattering of all of the colors in each panel. Gold and orange panes were sprinkled in the “youth” window predicting the wisdom to come, and a smattering of some greens, blues and reds were found throughout the “orange” window of old age, just like the “spark” of younger years so often seen in the eyes of the our eldest citizens.
The colored windows reflected the truth of God’s plan for our lives. There was the certainty of the unrelenting passage of time; there was no turning back or turning away from what was to come. Although each stage shone with its own unique beauty, none was as warm and welcoming as the orange glow of the autumn of life. Those final windows focused their brilliance on the plain wood of the cross above the altar.
Beyond the stained glass, as life fades from the richest of colors to the brownest of dust, the light will continue to shine, glorious.
photos thanks to the Facebook page of First United Methodist Church – Olympia