The winter sun streams in at a low angle, passing through the stained glass adorning the walls of St. John’s Gernant’s Church, illuminating the interior with a warm glow.
Inside the sanctuary, members of the congregation in a recent meeting discuss the history of those windows and finalize plans for an open house Jan. 22, following the service in the historic church at 12 Gernant’s Church Road, Leesport.
In October, the church held a rededication service, marking the 80 years since the windows’ installation, said Pastor Fran Merkel.
“It was a lovely service,” church historian Mary Jean Kauffman said. “And then we had another member, Dane Miller, who came forward and thought, well, we should let the community know about these windows.”
The public is invited Sunday to join with church members and appreciate the artistry depicted on the walls.
“The first time I walked into this place, I just went, ‘Wow,’” Miller said. “It just knocked my socks off. It’s such a beautiful sanctuary and that’s when M.J. (Kauffman) and Pastor Fran put that service together, I thought we have to do something more than that. We have to let the community know what kind of treasure they’ve got right smack in the middle of them.”
The church was established in 1794 when a log structure was built on an acre of ground bought from John Gernant, according to a church history.
The current building, built in 1868 and fully completed in 1886, had clear glass windows to better light the interior in the age before electricity.
In 1926, the church’s Ladies Aid Society asked permission to install stained-glass windows and proceeded with fundraising. By 1940, the installation of the windows was approved, and the windows and a mural of Jesus in Gethsemane painted by Kutztown art professor Henry W. Sharadin were dedicated Oct. 25, 1942.
The Sharadin mural is one of only a few of his that have survived. The art education building at Kutztown University is named in his honor.
The 10 windows in the sanctuary are two stories tall and depict in the bottom half scenes from the life of Christ, from birth to resurrection.
The top half of each window features important figures from the Old Testament to the left of the viewer, and figures from the New Testament to the right.
Among the portraits rendered in glass are the four evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the martyr Stephen, Peter, David, Moses, Isaiah and Abraham. Rather conspicuous by his absence is Paul.
And a few of the other choices seem rather curious.
Leading the parade of New Testament figures is Dorcas in the front of the church and Ruth as the last of the Old Testament portraits in the back.
Were the women of the Ladies Aid Society making a subtle statement?
Merkel isn’t sure.
“We don’t know whether the windows were picked by the women of the church, or were they picked by the person who did the windows? Did they recommend those?” she asked. “That’s why it would be nice to have that history of who built the windows.”
Unfortunately, that history hasn’t been found in the church records.
“Hopefully, we’ll find out more information about the windows because of the open house,” Merkel said.
The story of Dorcas appears in only six verses in Acts 9.
Luke tells in Acts that Dorcas, which is Greek for the Aramaic Tabitha, translated as “a gazelle,” was “devoted to good works and almsdeeds (36).” She became ill and died.
Peter was summoned and found all of the widows “weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them (39).”
Peter sent all of them outside, prayed, and turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up (40).”
She opened her eyes and rose from the dead.
In the church window, Dorcas is dressed in crimson with a blue cloth draped over her shoulder.
The Old Testament’s Ruth, whose story is told in the book that bears her name, bookends the sanctuary’s figures portrayed in glass.
Ruth’s story is one of devotion – and seduction. The scene with Boaz in the threshing room rivals anything found in the Song of Solomon.
The total experience is one of a theological education.
And that’s the purpose of the stained glass, an original multimedia presentation.
“Well, the worship experience originally, historically, when stained-glass windows came into being, many people could not read, and so the windows having depictions of church scenes or religious scenes on them, help the people understand some of the biblical history because people couldn’t read the Bible,” Merkel said.
“I think still today, it is impressive for people to see the windows and be reminded of the stories that they have learned.”
St. John’s Gernant’s Church, 12 Gernant’s Church Road, Leesport, will host an open house Sunday from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. for the public to view the stained-glass windows in the historic church.
Source: Berkshire mont