The stained-glass windows on North Lakeview Avenue serve as a beacon of hope — especially at night — to folks who pass by the First United Methodist Church of Winter Garden. The windows have shared the stories of Jesus since they were first installed in the 1940s.
But over time, the harsh Florida sun has chipped the paint and added a hazy film of grime to the protective covering, dulling the shine of these magnificent pieces of art.
The church staff and congregation have been contributing to a fund created specifically for the care of the windows, and that money is now being used on a huge stained-glass window restoration project that began in December. The work entails removing the Plexiglas and stainless-steel framework, removing or reducing pane bulging, installing new structural support braces, removing paint down to the original wood and applying primer and a finish coat of paint, cleaning the glass, installing the framework for the new clear-flow protective covering, and then adding the protective piece, said church trustee Richard Mulligan.
Most of these steps are being repeated on each window in the sanctuary and the chapel across the courtyard. All of the southside windows are finished, and the restoration crew is working on the northern windows this week.
The biggest task will be the restoration of the window at the front of the church, “Jesus the Good Shepherd,” which has 26 large panels and stands several stories tall.
The last restoration project was in the late 1970s or early ’80s, said Marian Wagster, a longtime church member who serves on the committee because she has experience with stained glass.
“If we hadn’t put at least that coating on in the late ’70s, they’d be gone by now,” she said.
“This whole campus is a legacy left to us,” said Michael Brugal, who is in charge of finances. “It’s important to restore them and maintain them just like you would with any inheritance.”
“And they’re so beautiful,” Wagster added. “I have the best seat because I’m in the choir and I get to look at the beautiful Shepherd Window. It’s a worship experience.”
SHARING GOD’S MESSAGE FOR EIGHT DECADES
The stained-glass windows were installed in the early 1940s during the construction phase of the church campus. The windows were donated by early church members, many of them well-known citrus grove owners, who dedicated the windows to family members. Some of their descendants worship in the church still today.
“Our forefathers left a legacy to us with the windows, so it’s our job as a church family to continue that for the future,” Brugal said.
Pastor Melissa Stump’s sermon on Sunday opened with “the power of aesthetic and how artwork has the power to communicate something to us that can’t be communicated by word or by reading something,” she said. “What someone may get something out of a sermon or Bible study or mission trip but other people are going to get something from artwork. It tells our story of faith. All the windows tell the story of faith, and even people who don’t know the story, they have the ability to share with someone the message that’s in the window.”
Furthermore, they can be a source of comfort for folks who are in need of spiritual guidance.
“Local people in the community seem to enjoy the light that we keep on at night on the Shepherd’s Window,” said business manager Ken White. “When the schedule gets off, we get phone calls.”
“If we would have just changed the covering itself, they would look totally different,” Stump said. “I think people question why we want to do this work. From this distance to the window, it looks beautiful, but when you get up close, (you can see the) cracks throughout it. … And if we put it off too long, it will ruin the windows and they will collapse. … The rest of the work is so they will last for generations to come.”
The cost of the project is $154,000. Stump said the Christmas offering boosted the fund balance quite a bit, but there still is more to be raised.
To donate to the restoration fund, visit fumcwg.org.