Windows into faith

Published 11:22 pm Friday, March 23, 2012

I’ve always enjoyed looking at stained-glass windows — I mean, who doesn’t? — but I never fully appreciated them until my visit to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Tuesday.

The church I was sometimes taken to during my childhood was in a former 7-Eleven building, so the windows might have been stained, but they weren’t the sort of stained glass you’d expect in a church. And the church I attended later on was in a more modern building, so again, there were no stained-glass windows.

But the folks who attend St. Paul’s have many large, gleaming works of art scattered around the building where they spend time each Sunday morning. The Rev. Keith Emerson even is leading a Bible study on the different passages represented in the windows, including 1 Corinthians 13:13 and Matthew 25:35.

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During my visit, I got the chance to become acquainted with Gene Higgins Jr., whose company is doing the maintenance and cleanings. He also designed new windows to replace some that did not match the feel of the others.

In my short conversation with him, it was clear Higgins genuinely cares about the quality of his work and preserving the heritage of St. Paul’s. He’s been doing this for 36 years, and it’s rare that someone does something for so long without caring about it.

“It’s a service to God, because it’s His temple we’re preserving,” Higgins told me as he rubbed his hands with a towel.

He explained to me how stained-glass windows truly are works of art — many consist of several layers and thousands of individual pieces to create the scene depicted. The artists must have an intense understanding of how the light will combine with the colors.

But Higgins and his crew are just as much artists because of the careful way they clean, repair and preserve these valuable treasures.

I also never thought about how stained-glass windows can be valuable to our faith until I heard something Emerson said. He mentioned he wants his parishioners to reflect on the gifts they have been given — faith, hope and love, depicted in a set of balcony windows — and how to translate that into compassion for the world, depicted in a set of ground-floor windows.

Not just works of art, these windows are important teaching materials for the church. I was certainly blessed to learn about them.