I WILL PROBABLY ALWAYS VOTE AGAINST putting a stained glass window in a church.
I love stained glass windows. I’ve spent hours enjoying them in churches throughout the Middle East and Europe. We have gorgeous ones here in the States, too.
My own church will soon have a four-story-high, stained glass window that people will be able to see from two miles away, I’m told. When you walk into our new sanctuary that’s being build, the stained glass window will dominate the sacred space. It fills the wall at the front of the room with pictures of Bible scenes, including a 45-foot resurrected Jesus.
The art looks top-notch.
The history is solid. Stained glass windows emerged as a way of telling the story of Jesus to people who couldn’t read the Bible. That’s one of the arguments for continuing the tradition: use pictures to tell the story of Jesus to people who won’t read the Bible.
Years ago I worshiped in a church that started as a basement. We would build in stages, as we were able to keep the debt manageable. The sacred space was a sanctuary on Sunday and a gymnasium and preschool the rest of the week. Our pastor dubbed it the Sanctinasium (SANK tuh NAY zee um).
We were located in the elite part of town. Within walking distance there lived lawyers, Hallmark execs, and football stars. Society’s rich worshiped with middle class souls such as me and my family. Strangely enough, given our location, we also had homeless folks among us, bussed in from downtown. They seemed to feel comfortable in a sacred space with basketball hoops at both ends of the room.
I remember the evening we had our church meeting to vote on building the next stage. Most members wanted a traditional sanctuary. They were tired of meeting in a gym. But I loved being there. I feared that once we built a traditional worship space, our church wouldn’t feel familiar, welcoming, and comfortable to outsiders. Instead, it would feel like a place they didn’t belong.
More than 90% of the voters disagreed with me. We built a beautiful sanctuary.
I never saw the homeless folks there again.
Why would they feel any more comfortable wearing tattered clothes to a minted sanctuary than I would feel wearing pajamas to an opera?
Here’s what I wonder.
Are stained glass windows today more for insiders than for outsiders? Best viewed as Christians, from inside the church looking out – through rose-colored glass onto a canvas of stories that comfort us?
Least helpful as a nonChristian, from outside the church looking in – through beautiful stained glass art of people we know nothing about?
Aside from that question, there’s the money question.
Let’s say Jesus came down for a visit. And he brought three million bucks with him.
Standing before him is a crowd of souls ready to pitch him their ideas for how best to use that money.
- There’s a company that would need it all to build one of the largest stained glass windows in the country – something folks will be talking about for decades, or until a kid shows up with a slingshot.
- There’s an African man with parasites in his stomach because his village doesn’t have a source of clean water. He would like a couple thousand dollars to rent equipment to dig a hole.
- There’s a downtown minister who says the city needs a place not only to house the homeless but to treat the mental illness that typically drives those troubled souls away. He would like seed money for a Fresh Start clinic and rehab mission.
- There’s a principal who says most of her students come to school hungry and without the clothes they need to keep them warm in the winter. She would like to feed and clothe them.
If Jesus controlled that wad of three million dollars, where would he let it go?
I do not presume to know.
All I know is what I hope I would do with that money.
There’s a place for art in Christianity. I showcase art in most of my books.
But perhaps you can understand why someone who finds God at work in a Sanctinasium accessorized with basketball hoops would pause and wonder about stained glass windows.
You can understand that, right?