ISLAMORADA - To the Rev. Jim Altman, pastor of Matacumbe United
Methodist Church here, stained glass windows are no longer "expensive
ornamentation," but a means of unifying a congregation and reaching out beyond the
Last June, eight church members started making stained glass panels
to go around the two doors on either side of the sanctuary. Today, more than 20 people are
involved, including members of other local churches and the community. They hope to start
working on the sanctuaryís six large windows soon.
"The main benefit for the church is that itís something that
has captured the imagination and excitement of the church people and crystallized the
church in a way that it hasnít been crystallized in maybe 10 years or so," Altman
said. "This is not the result of someoneís last will and testament, but a labor of
love of a handful of church people."
Church member Susan Bateman, who has been working in stained glass
for more than 13 years, is leading the project. When she first attended the church more
than two years ago, she wondered how it would look with stained glass windows instead of
its original yellow windows.
"As far as I know, the novelty of those yellow panels wore off
a long time ago," she said. "Everyone I have spoken to about them has wistfully
longed for something else."
Bateman knew she couldnít make all of the windows herself. "I
had a fantasy about teaching the process to the congregation and doing the effort
jointly," she said.
The church needed a new roof, however, and did not have money for
stained glass windows. "I mentioned it a couple of times to Jim Altman... but there
were no funds for such a massive project," she said.
At Altmanís invitation, Bateman joined the fund-raising committee
for the roof. At the end of that project, she shared her vision with the trustees. She
offered to teach church members how to make stained glass and decided the project would be
easier if each person made one square.
Altman said having church members do the work made the project
A Sunday school classroom was converted into a workshop, and work on
the first panel began July 4. By September, one door had been completed, and the entire
project was finished by Thanksgiving. Bateman designed the panels, each of which features
a different Christian symbol - a chalice, fish, butterfly and others.
Altman said the windows add "an object of meditation" to
the sanctuary. The project has also helped increase peopleís interest in the church.
"The benefit of people from the congregation doing this is it shares the ownership of
the place; thereís more of the self invested in the church," he said. "The more
invested you are in the church, the more the church and its mission become important to
Publicity in community newspapers has also brought people from
beyond the church to learn about stained glass and work on the windows, according to
Altman says he expects the project to last several more years and
involve dozens of people. The church has applied to the Monroe County Council for the Arts
for a grant to help buy materials.
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