By Calleigh Hoffman
One of my most distinct childhood memories is of wandering the church after service. I would sneak away while my parents stood and talked to the congregation members.
If I was lucky, the lights would've been shut off by then. I remember opening the sanctuary doors to an unlit room. But although the belly of the church stood completely still, it seemed to breathe. Perhaps it was the way dust particles danced in the colored light that showed through the stained glass, or maybe it was the spiritual remnants of the singing and smiling that took place in the room just an hour or so before.
Of course, I was seven, and couldn’t quite grasp the concept of lingering spiritual energy, but I understood that there was something other-worldly about those big stained-glass windows. In those colorful shapes and pictures, something resonated with my child's mind. I didn’t understand why John the Baptist ate bugs, or why Abraham took Isaac up onto Mount Moriah, but I understood beauty. I understood love and warmth and reverence.
Being so small, it was easy to become intimidated by things bigger than I was. But even as imposing as they were, I felt comforted in the presence of those staggering pieces of art, rather than unnerved by them.
Most churches built between the 10th and 12th centuries possessed these glass works of art. They were meant to convey the stories of the Bible to congregation members who couldn’t read, as illiteracy was commonplace one thousand years ago.
One can only imagine the amount of intricate storytelling and detail woven into these windows to give the members of the church an accurate idea of how full of vitality the Bible truly is.
Even more interesting, though, is the fact that we decided to keep them despite the word of God becoming more accessible as each year went by. I believe that this is because I, and many other Christians, simply accept that these windows are an extension of the beauty and grace of our faith.
My favorite windows I've ever encountered in a church I've attended are those belonging to John Wesley UMC here in Hagerstown. Besides our massive rose-style window facing the town, beautiful stained-glass windows line the walls of both the lower sanctuary and the balcony seats. The lower windows depict the story of Jesus and the Bible, and the upper windows tell the story of Methodism from John Wesley to Strawbridge Shrine.
But my favorite amongst each of these windows remains the simplest -- the vibrant trinity windows embedded in the ceiling of the sanctuary. It's possible they always seem the most vibrant because, by the time the service starts, the sun sits above the church rather than beside it.
I didn’t even know of these small windows’ existence until one day, I was sitting in the pews and suddenly noticed I was covered in warm pink light. I remember looking back and forth between all the windows, wondering how it could've been possible that their light hit me at this angle until I followed one of their rays and spotted them. Since noticing their existence, I’ve been trying to track where the dreamy colors flowing from the Trinity windows touch down.
If I were to create a window to illustrate my faith, just as churches have done for centuries, I would choose to depict mine and plenty of other youth’s experiences with our faith. Just as a window in my church portrays Jesus's birth, my window would portray myself being born into a pastor's family.
Just as a window in my church portrays when Jesus began his ministry, turning water into wine, my window would portray the first time I wrote poetry about my faith. All little victories, in comparison to Jesus’s accomplishments, but not loved by God any less.
Although we may think it hard to see ourselves in the images depicted inside stained glass, as they possess stories of miracles and moments of divine intervention, I find that we have a lot to relate to, as our stories are ones of love, faith, and sacrifice, just as the stories woven into the stained-glass.
Calleigh Hoffman, a high school student in Hagerstown, is a member of John Wesley UMC in Hagerstown and a leader in conference youth activities. Top photo of the sanctuary by Barbara Hoover.
The stained glass windows below reside in the upper balcony at John Wesley UMC in Hagerstown. They feature the story of Methodism. Click on each one to view larger.