Through a glass, brightly
It’s fitting that the eastern side of the Farmville United Methodist Church is the one lit up on Monday morning, its stained glass windows glowing like colorful, liquid light.
They show the triumphs in the life of Christ: healing the sick, blessing children and ascending to heaven.
On the western side are his more challenging moments: confronting the rich young ruler, pulling the disciple Peter from the waves and praying in the garden at Gethsemane.
“In the morning, the sun comes up right there, and you can see and that’s the most beautiful window,” church member Daphne Mason said, pointing to the window depicting an angel pointing to Jesus’ empty tomb.
She looked to the other side, showing Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane. “It’s so eerie to have an evening service here, after daylight saving, because the sun will be there, and then it’ll just gradually fade to darkness.”
Another window, showing Jesus rescuing Peter while walking on water, used to have a tree behind it, she said.
“When the wind would blow the trees outside behind the water, it looked as if the water were really moving.”
Mason, along with Farmville Methodist’s Rev. Susie Thomas, discussed the windows while walking around the church’s sanctuary.
The stories of Christ’s life as depicted on the windows will be the focus of a five-week series of sermons, delivered by Thomas, the church’s pastor. Each sermon will focus on a different window, starting this Sunday, Sept. 5.
The sermons were prompted partly to honor the memory of Grace Jackson Jefferson and her husband, Brantley M. Jefferson. Grace was the originator of the 2010 “Stories in Stained Glass” booklet that the church offers its members; the 2020 reprinting was meant to honor Brantley as well, who passed that year. Both were friends of Mason.
“Some people have researched the windows from a historical perspective,” Mason said. “Grace wanted something done from a scriptural point of view.” The booklet quotes appropriate Bible verses for pictures of each window, and the entries discuss religious points in each window’s scene.
“She wanted everyone in the church to have one,” Mason said, referring to the booklets. “She wanted it to be scripturally oriented but died before she could complete it. She asked me to help her with it before she died. Then her husband asked me if I would complete the project for her. The church had given out all the books her husband had originally printed.”
The other reason for the sermons, according to Thomas, is just that she loves them and has felt inspired to use them as a touchstone for preaching.
“It’s just something I’ve been wanting to do,” Thomas said. “It’s been a longstanding desire of mine. Ever since I saw them, I’ve wanted to do it.”
As part of the special series, two sermons on Sept. 19 and Sept. 26 will be delivered by in-house guest pastors. Respectively, they will be the lay leader Patti Wagner and Rev. Josh Blakely, who is a deacon.
Children will be allowed to take part in a silent “scavenger hunt,” provided with a sheet of search questions for the windows such as “what is the only window that shows Jesus wearing sandals?” (he’s barefoot in all the others) and “where can you find two doves in a cage?”
QR codes will also be posted next to the windows so that people interested in an informational “deep dive” can scan them with their phones to learn more.
“High-tech meets 19th century artistry,” Thomas said. “I’m kind of excited about that.”
The church requires masks to attend, but with that instruction, “everybody’s welcome,” Thomas said.
She and Mason continued their slow tour of the windows, admiring their detail and meaning.
“It’s a giving from the heart,” Mason said. “A constant reminder to the subsequent generations.”
“Just the presence of beauty,” Thomas said.