On vacation. We sat in a Baptist church. The preacher held forth beneath a large round window of plain glass. The glass revealed a windblown treetop beneath some scudding clouds. A small bird in a top branch sang God’s praises while we did the same inside. Suddenly I thought of a little girl of long ago, who told me something about windows.
The church of my childhood had colorful leaded windows. The base of the west window bore the inscription “Donated by the Sunday School.” The word “donated” held my attention more than the sermons. What did it mean? It was a funny-looking word.
The Lutheran church standing guard beside its school, which I attended, had windows of deep blue. They depicted some saints. We didn’t know what saints were. Our teacher said saints were people who let the light shine through.
The last congregation I served built a new sanctuary but had no money left for church windows. “A nonessential,” I said. Yet I was a bit reluctant to make my peace with frosted glass. Then, in God’s providence, something happened.
Our building-committee chairman, while traveling, met a man he had befriended and helped financially in the long-ago leaner years. In the intervening time, the man had become wealthy. Never having forgotten his benefactor, he said, “Now it’s my turn to do you a favor.”
After some conversation, in which the man insisted on returning the blessing, our chairman said he could accept a donation for our building fund. A small contribution perhaps.
The man of poverty, now of wealth, made a special trip to Grand Rapids, Mich., to inspect our building site and see our plans. When he discovered that we were going for frosted glass in our effort to cut costs, he offered to fund the east wall of the sanctuary with “churchy” windows. Naturally, we were most pleased.
The man called a few days later to say that his wife had scolded him. She had said, “What will that look like—churchy windows on one side and frosted glass on the other?” He apologized and said that he and his wife would donate the windows for both sides of the sanctuary. This upped our reaction from pleased to ecstatic.
And so it was that we contracted with Willet Studios of Philadelphia for windows portraying the story of Jesus from birth to resurrection.
There is more. A member—not really, but an adherent—asked, “What about the Ascension?”—then donated a sizable sum for an exceptional five-lancet window depicting the Ascension, for the front wall of the sanctuary. He also funded one we would later label “The Great Commission Window.”
Willet Studios imported glass from Belgium, chunks of which were set in an elastic kind of cement.
Still more. When the “Ascension” window arrived from Philadelphia, one section of a side lancet depicted an individual in a pith helmet who looked for all the world like Albert Schweitzer—the gifted organist, theologian, and physician who ended up in Africa and who championed respect for life. But, great as my admiration was for Schweitzer, I objected. I had read his book The Quest for the Historical Jesus, in which he denied the resurrection. The offending section was therefore returned. Willet Studios disguised him with a beard and sent him back.
Throughout the years I have conducted countless tours of our church for visiting retirees, Boy Scouts, schoolchildren, and more. With the help of the windows, I’ve told the story of Jesus from birth to resurrection and, oh yes, his ascension.
It was on one of these occasions that a little girl asked if she could tell us something about the windows of heaven. She said, “My mommy says that the millions of stars in the sky are really windows of heaven letting the light of heaven shine through.”
Surely true of that star that led the wise men from the East. And also of those saints in a Lutheran church window.