Preserving 100-year old stained glass

By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV

On July 3, 1881, the Ronceverte Presbyterian Church was organized as an outpost of the Old Stone Presbyterian Church in Lewisburg, WV. Dr. M.L. Lacy served as Pastor at Old Stone and led the commission to establish the Ronceverte church. Up until that time, Dr. Lacy had been preaching in Ronceverte wherever he could find space, including the local lumber mill which was the town’s major employer.

Fourteen members moved from the Old Stone church to Ronceverte, joining with nine original members. The Rev. W.F. Wilhelm was called as the first Pastor, and a building was constructed on Monroe Avenue for a total cost of $776.17.

Three denominations joined together to build that church–the Presbyterians, the Baptists, and the Episcopalians. But after only a year, the Presbyterians bought out the other church groups and operated the church themselves.

In 1923, the Ronceverte Presbyterian Church moved into a brand new building just up the hill on Greenbrier Avenue. The reason for the move is unclear. While there are anecdotal stories of a fire, the historical church record does not say directly. The new church cost $86,500 to construct.

The new church included a centerpiece stained glass window modeled on the window shapes of the original church on Monroe Avenue, shown above.

It included several stained glass windows from the old church and a new stained glass window modeled on the architecture of the previous church. The stained glass window was the centerpiece of the sanctuary, filled with Biblical symbols and rich colors, evoking the beauty of creation and God’s gracious love.

Fast forward to the early 21st century, and it’s no secret that the church at large is shrinking. (That’s especially true of small, rural congregations.) Ever since the 1950s, the number of people active in churches is decreasing steadily over time.

Folks confront those facts in different ways. Some change. Some leave. Some maintain. At Ronceverte Presbyterian Church, where I’ve served as Pastor since 2007, we decided to build. For the future, by honoring the past.

In the 1980s, a crew added a new cover on the stained glass window. Above, they paint the trim before installing the cover.

In late 2019, we undertook a capital campaign. Led by Alyson Dotson, a lawyer and church officer whose family has been in the church for generations, the campaign was called “Preserving God’s Promises.” We were approaching the building’s 100th year in 2023 and wanted to do all we could to ensure the church and building could continue doing ministry and mission for another 100 years.

The pandemic struck only a few months later, but we persevered. In total, we raised more than $200,000 from members, neighbors, and friends, including the Marie Liest Foundation. With the funds, we replaced the steam boiler, added more than 50 new windows throughout the building, replaced the roof, repointed the bricks, fixed the elevator, and rebuilt the stained glass window at the head of the sanctuary.

Over its 100-year lifespan, the stained glass had begun to fail. If you looked at the base of it up close, you could see a 45 degree angle forming where the window was falling onto itself due to the lead holding each piece together beginning to break apart under its own weight.

The stained glass project was the most intricate, difficult, and rewarding of all that we did. It took more than two years total from soliciting bids, to signing a contract, to having the window removed, to having it restored, to having it reinstalled. So if your church is undergoing such a project, have patience. It will be trying, but it’s worth it.

Willet Hauser completed the restoration of the stained glass window in their studio. Above are pictures of the process, when they took every single piece of glass apart before cleaning it and putting it back together.

Here’s a short video showing the process:

Someone asked us, “Why did you devote so much time and money to a window?” For us, it’s more than a window. It’s a symbol of our faith. It’s a relic of our church history. It’s a glimpse of God’s divine grace each Sunday as we worship. And, it’s a promise for the future.

I shared the following story with the children in worship about the symbols in the stained glass before the project began: “Last week, you asked why there was a sword in the stained glass window? This week, I’m going to tell you why there’s a sword, and why there is a shield and some other things in the window too. First, let me ask you, do you have windows that look like that in your house? No. What do your windows look like? Are they clear squares or rectangles? These are called stained glass windows, and they’ve existed for 1,600 years. They let light inside the building with beautiful colors that make us happy, don’t they? And they also tell a story. What story does this window tell? It has four symbols that make a triangle. In the bottom it has this symbol which is means “the beginning” and this one which means “the end” and in the middle up at the top is the sword and shield which is the middle. The beginning, the middle, and the end. God is in charge to protect us for the beginning, the middle, and the end. And we know God in three ways–God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It also has another triangle of symbols–three crosses! And finally, it has crosses at the top with four leafed clovers in the middle, which probably means God’s blessing. All together, it tells the story of God protecting us all the time.”

We thank everyone for their support of this project and pray we can continue to serve the community for many years to come. Last week, we posted the short video of the construction process on social media and more than 50,000 people watched it! With God’s guidance, we can preserve ministry and mission for another 100 years here in the River City.

Ronceverte Presbyterian Church belongs to the Presbyterian Church (USA). We are located at 261 Locust Street, Ronceverte, WV, 24970. Worship is held on Sundays at 11am. Learn more on their website.

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