Church Windows

by Robin Isbell

Beautiful, Inspiring . . . and For Sale

On the corner of Main and Greenwood, east of Toledo’s Maumee River, glorious stained glass windows started filling people’s emotions after the San Francisco Earthquake and before Henry Ford introduced his Model T. They kept on touching lives during The Great War. They radiated God’s good news while women marched for the right to vote, and labor unionized. They glorified Jesus throughout Prohibition and during the northern migration of the Great Depression. They pulled people into God’s Kingdom while Wold War II progressed to American neighborhoods and homes. And they told the old, old story again when East Toledo welcomed service men and women back home. 

After lifting hearts to worship throughout more than 40 years of progress and turmoil, the windows turned their light on me and woke me up to an alternate world. 

Still needing to hold my parent’s hand while I clambered up the church stairs, I remember edging into its grand vault, filled with light and beautyIt was very big and I was very small. Everything lifted my eyes - the vertical lines of the organ pipes, coffered ceiling and high, high windows. I felt the presence of a Being who struck my heart with awe. Time-stopping awe. It might have been scary except that the image and generosity of Jesus encircled me. I simultaneously felt reverence and welcoming love. Although I had no vocabulary for it at the time, I perceived that “Unfailing love and truth had met together. Righteousness and peace had kissed!” Psalm 85:10 NLT

Every Sunday for most of 22 years, the sanctuary and its windows repeated their songs of love and awe to me.

Attended by 3 enormous pictures of Jesus, we sang “Tell me the stories of Jesus, I love to hear, things I would ask Him to tell me if he were here. Scenes by the wayside, tales of the sea, stories of Jesus - tell them to me.”

Halfway through my years there, I was baptized and allowed to take communion.

As the church celebrated communion, I looked over my shoulder to see Christ in Gethsemane. I considered his struggle and pain as he asked for an escape from the cross, while remaining fully committed to his calling. I thought about Peter denying his Lord and the disciples fleeing when faced with how Christ’s Kingdom really worked. I could see their point. But I knew Jesus was not them, and also was not me.

Community - the fellowship of believers - came alive as deacons delivered the elements in orderly habit. Everyone took the bread and the juice as one. We capped communion by singing "Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.” Then on the 4th verse, I turned my eyes to my grandparents and others who were older or had lost loved ones as we sang “When we are called to part it gives us inward pain; but we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.

Holy, Holy, Holy” sung of an early morning, captured all the characteristics important to note: Merciful and Mighty. God in 3 persons. Who was and is and is to come. Glory beyond what we can see. The one and only, Holy God. Full of power, love and majesty. Majesty.

The effect of the majesty never left me, even long after I left Ohio.

In October 2014, I was doing a month of Children’s Church here in California. The series of lessons focused on our experiences at church and God’s trustworthiness. I had fun taking photos of our church and making matching cards so the kids could talk about places they especially like in their church. I felt led to share with them my formative church experiences. So, out came the slide show of Second Baptist Church and its windows. The children were enthralled and we talked not only about God and His Holiness, but also about the differences between my childhood church and theirs. They could see that my childhood church might draw you into God’s beauty and majesty. However, one perceptive boy pointed out that such beauty could be distracting; and maybe our plain church allows us to concentrate better on God Himself. How right he is. We each connect to God in different ways.

Very soon after that Sunday, my mother got an email from her niece, my cousin. She was on Facebook and had reported that the old Second Baptist Church might be demolished. Over the next week I contacted anyone connected with the project and found that there was no plan to save the windows. But Mike’s Demolition brought me hope. Mike opened the door to me and my ideas. I flew to Toledo the week before Thanksgiving and found out I like Mike even better in person. He never met a practical problem that seemed impossible. The day before flying back home to California, I bought the windows from Mike and also contracted with Associated Crafts headquartered in Arizona to remove and crate the windows. The windows now sit in storage in Winona, MN, near Willet Hauser Architectural Glass which can refurbish them before shipping them on to their next home.

We hope to sell the windows to a wonderful new home where pictures of Jesus will thrill new hearts about God’s majesty and love.

If the sale nets a profit, we intend to plug it back into East Toledo and the neighborhood around the church. One possibility is to invest in small businesses. Another option is inviting a community garden onto the old church property.  It would be a permanent feature to anchor sporadic community gatherings - such as ice cream socials, outdoor communion, street piano weeks, and summer Bible clubs for kids. Or maybe there is some way to mentor neighborhood kids in math. For now, I have connected with East Toledo Family Center which does great work in the area.