Windows to the Past

First United Methodist booklet celebrates stained glass artistry

By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

Mar. 4, 2007 - "When hard times come, what makes survival possible and desirable is not its archeological identity but its ability to continue, and it continues because some structures, some institutions and facilities represent continuity. These are the landmarks [and they] stand for continuity, community identity, for links with the past and the future. In the contemporary American community these roles are what counteract our mobility and fragmentation and forgetfulness of history."

Staff Photo by Terry Mathews

Jennifer Philo and John Sellers helped put together the booklet about the stained glass windows in the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church.

J. B. Jackson (1909-1996)

The words of author, writer and landscape architect J.B. Jackson could have been written about the wisdom and foresight of the the members of Sulphur Springs' First United Methodist Church. Since 1917, the congregation has carefully preserved its historic sanctuary, complete with impressive stained glass windows, thereby providing this community with continuity and a link to the past and future.

In honoring its past, the church has recently released "Sanctuary Stained Glass Windows," a 24-page, full color booklet detailing the history of the church's 18 memorial stained glass panels.

The idea for the publication came from Jennifer Philo, the church's communications secretary.

"A United Methodist Women's group from Daingerfield was coming to visit the church last fall," Philo said. "We found out how many were coming and I put a little booklet together. I asked Harve Chapman to help pick out scriptures to go with each one. We asked John Sellers to double-check the facts."

Sellers led the UMW group on the tour, Philo said.

"Then, our Harvest Festival was coming up, so I decided to make a hardbound book with the information we had gathered for the tour. I put it in our live auction," Philo said. "The book brought $450 and was purchased by a group of people who, in turn, donated it to our church library."

Chapman then asked Philo to do a booklet that could be sold to the public. He and Philo agreed that proceeds from the sale of the new publication would be divided between the church library and Relay for Life, a cause near to Philo's heart.

The group didn't have to start from scratch.

"Mattie Mae Long, who was a longtime member of this church, had compiled a donors' list back in the 1970s," Sellers explained. "I had a copy of her work. What I did was go into a little more detail and updated it. I did all this in 2000, for our 150th anniversary."

When Sellers heard about the latest project, he volunteered to re-write some of what he did in 2000.

"What's interesting to me is the people who are honored and the classes that are honored," Seller said. "Some of the individuals had just died recently, like within a year or so of the church being finished."

As she got up close and personal with the windows to photograph them, Philo started noticing things she hadn't seen before.

"We've been members of this church for 11 years, and I've worked here for about five and a half years, so I am used to seeing them every day," Philo said. "But as I began to take the photos, I noticed the vibrancy of the detail and the colors on them."

For example, in "Shepherds Watching Their Flocks," given in honor of the Rev. and Mrs. Thoomas Sherwood, there is a city under the star.

"There's a city on the hill," Philo said. "That's Bethlehem, and you can actually see the buildings on the hill."

In "Rich Young Ruler," given by the Philathea Class in honor of former teacher Mrs. Lucy Holderness, Philo points out the cherubs in the clouds above Jesus' head.

"I didn't know they were there," Philo said. "It's the little things you take for granted."

For example, how many church members are aware that the pane in the lower right hand corner of the "Madonna and Child" doesn't match the rest of the window? Philo didn't notice the mismatch until she began work on the project.

"We don't know what happened to the original pane," Philo said.

Philo says sales of the new booklet have been brisk so far.

"We're really pleased with the way the sales are going," she said.

"Sanctuary Stained Glass Windows" is available at the church office for $15. For more information, call 903-885-2185.

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