Congregation fills 100 panes with stained glass
As fire transforms sand into glass, so God’s power transforms people into his beautiful reflections. For a group of 20 from River East Mennonite Brethren Church, this truth became tangible as they spent almost two years turning 100 ordinary sanctuary windows into stained glass portals of worship.
The spark that ignited this “journey of light” was a bequest from congregation member Heidi Koop who died of cancer at 63 in 2002. It was 2012 before the seed money – stipulated to fund art in the church – took root under the direction of REMB members Rachel Baerg (head of education at the Winnipeg Art Gallery) and Danielle Fontaine Koslowsky (professional artist).
The tradition of stained glass windows in churches harks from a time when few could read, when this “visual Bible” taught people in “a universal and timeless language meant to communicate love through the beauty of God,” explained Baerg at the dedication service, Apr. 12, 2015.
The colours and images in cathedral windows “transport[ed] the weary masses from mundane realities to the mystery of faith,” said Baerg.
Traditionally, Mennonites preferred “a more simple way,” said Lori Matties, one of the amateur glass artists; words and deeds expressed Anabaptist faith as the movement blossomed alongside the age of literacy. “But now, we live in an age of too many words.
“Visual arts can speak into our hearts in ways that words alone do not,” she said.
To begin, Baerg and Koslowksy holed up in the church basement with 4,000 square feet of paper and a mess of Sunday school crayons. Three hours later, they had filled the pages with the preliminary design for the windows, conveying the mystery of the creation story, the quiet resilience of the cross, the vibrant fruit of transformation and redeeming blood of Christ and, dancing across the top of each panel, the sun of hope. The theme: “God is light.”
The windows were placed in the worship space as they were completed, slowly unveiling the story from creation to resurrection, from variations on blue to multicoloured hues.
Even in the creation phase, the windows educated and inspired wonder. The children handled glass and sand during teaching time in the Sunday service and created a tissue-paper stained glass image in Sunday school
The work built relationships in the congregation as they staged a variety of benefit concerts to raise the necessary funds, and especially in the dedicated teams of volunteers, aged 10–77 who laboured over the shards, connecting deeply through the experience of doing the same exacting, physical work together in the workshop space donated by Palliser Furniture. Others came on board to help with installation.
The celebration service was filled with light: the choir performed Elgar’s Lux Aeterna, Sarah Klassen and Irmgard Baerg composed “It’s a Mystery” for the event, and the sun broke through rainclouds, diffusing colour through the sanctuary at the end of the service.
The average person is bombarded by 3,000 images a day, Baerg explained; stained glass windows offer the remedial discipline of contemplation. To that end, she and Koslowsky are creating a guide to the symbols– drawn from tradition, inspired by modern art and informed by the congregation’s theologians.
The pieces of broken glass, fused together, “remind us of our brokenness,” said Baerg. “We’re all grains of sand; each has potential to be transformed and to offer glorious beauty to the world beyond.”
“We create beauty in imitation [of Jesus],” said Matties. “We hope our interaction with these windows will open metaphorical windows into and out of our own stories, the stories of those around us, and most of all into God’s story.”
Story co-posted with Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba (mbcm.ca). Photos by Carson Samson.