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St. Stephen’s window project casts worship in a new light

MIDDLEBURY — Parishioners at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Middlebury know their Bible — especially chapter one, verse three of the Book of Genesis:
“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.”
Verily, the St. Stephen’s community has spent the past six years bringing more light into the worship hall of their church, in the form of some majestic new colorful windows that are replacing the former versions that were becoming fragile and were characterized by an amber hue that the sun was having a tough time penetrating during services.
The congregation is now on the cusp of capping its $175,000 “Let There Be Light” project with the 16th and final window installation — that of the altar window. That oft gazed-upon, ornate glass fixture was gently removed from its elevated perch at the front of the worship hall this past Thursday. It will be replaced by a new version that will incorporate some of the most valued painted features of the old window while including stained glass and other flourishes, courtesy of renowned artist Midge Scanlan from Rochester.
Parishioners will vote this winter on one of two proposed designs for the new altar window, with installation to take place early next spring, according to the Rev. Dr. Susan McGarry, pastor of St. Stephen’s. All of the windows are fronted (to the outdoors) with thermo-pane storm windows during the cold months, and screens during the summer.
“This is not only going to serve the aesthetic of today, but what will carry into the next generations,” McGarry said. “Clearly, there is an expectation here that our windows will last 150 years. You have to imagine what will be the needs of the church and the world in the next 150 years.”
St. Stephen’s held a special service last week at which parishioners were invited to bid farewell to the old altar window. Church records indicate that window was installed in July of 1867 at a cost of $160, covered by an anonymous donor. The passing years have seen the glass sag and fracture, but have done little to diminish the vibrant, colorful images of the various biblical symbols that adorn it. Depictions include wheat, representing bread and the body of Christ; corn, a symbol of regeneration and fertility of the land; and the lamb, another reference to Christ.
Longtime parishioner and Let There Be Light Committee member Sansea Sparling chatted with a fellow congregation member at last week’s special service. The parishioner described her appreciation of the former altar window and the impression it had made on her throughout years of attending services.
“She said, ‘I first saw this window in 1942, when I was three years old, and my dad was the priest here,’” Sparling recounted. “‘I have to say I spent a lot of time looking at that window instead of listening to my dad’s sermons.’ And a great many people have spent a good many minutes and hours over the course of days and weeks looking at (the window’s) symbols and using them as a set of suggestions for meditation or prayer, or ruminations or questions.”
As the Addison Independent went to press, church officials were still sorting out which panels of the former altar window could be salvaged and included in the new one. Scanlan, who has a lot of experience working with church windows, will be culling glass from a New York repository of such material originating from throughout the world, according to Sparling. With the congregation’s guidance, Scanlan will then combine elements of the old glass with the new in fashioning the winning altar window design for St. Stephen’s.
“The goal is to make it a symbol of worship … and a gift to the coming generations,” Sparling said.
And it’s a very generous gift.
PETER DEMPEWOLFF STEPS off an exterior scaffolding and through an opening created by the removal of one of the stained glass windows behind the altar at St. Stephen’s Church in downtown Middlebury last Thursday afternoon. The altar windows are being renovated and replaced as part of the congregation’s “Let There Be Light” project.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Scanlan, at the behest of St. Stephen’s parishioners, is selecting window glass made in Europe, where the craft has been practiced and honed for centuries. Each of the new window columns in the St. Stephen’s worship hall cost around $10,000. Fortunately, church members gave generously to the project and received naming opportunities for all of the windows, which bear the name(s) of the donor, or the person or people, in whose honor the contributions was given. For example, a window column along one of the walls of the parish was underwritten by former parishioners John and Bonnie McCardell, and honors the memory of students, staff and faculty at Middlebury College. McCardell is a former president of that institution, and a small version of the college’s crest appears in the donated window.
With the window project finally done next spring, St. Stephen’s parishioners will enjoy their Sunday services in a more colorful light.
McGarry is proud of her parishioners.
“A lot of the decisions were made quickly and the congregation was involved, and I think it’s a real testament to people’s commitment to the stewardship of this building,” McGarry said. “People stepped forward, and money came to the table and a lot has been accomplished. I’ve worked with a lot of churches and this is truly extraordinary. I’m excited that we are doing the last (window).”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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