After 150 years, the stained-glass windows of First United Methodist Church are getting a facelift.
It’s all thanks to tens of thousands of dollars in donations and a man willing to drive nearly 1,600 miles round trip to do the work.
For several years, Brian McHale, of Windows of Heaven Stained Glass of Westport, Conn., has been traveling from Connecticut to Frankfort to restore First United’s 150-year-old stained-glass windows.
The project has been about a decade in the making, after the church’s chairman of trustees, Paul Mauer, noticed that the windows were getting bent out of shape – literally.
“Just looking up and down the aisle, I began looking at the windows and thinking, ‘You know … these (pieces) aren’t vertically aligned,’” Mauer said Thursday.
“There really hadn’t been anything done to the windows, that we could find, over the last 70 or 85 years … so we decided it was time to redo them.”
The church looked for experienced stained glass window restorers and hired McHale in 2006.
But because of the project’s estimated $125,000 price tag, restoring the windows has been on the backburner for several years.
Mauer said most of the church’s attention during that time went toward building an addition, which was finished in 2006. After asking members to donate to that project, coupled with the economic recession, Mauer said he held off asking for contributions to restore the windows.
“We didn’t want to be a burden when people were having a hard time making ends meet,” Mauer said.
So McHale’s been taking it one window at a time. Since 2006, he’s restored 13 of the 18 windows, and the more work he does, the more members are taking notice.
Mauer said he’s received a lot of positive feedback from churchgoers, which in turn has resulted in more donations. Just a few weeks ago, a member asked Mauer if he could donate funds in memory of a family member who recently died.
Each window costs about $8,500 to restore. Mauer says he realizes that’s a lot of money, but the cost is worth it.
“Some people say, “Well, gee that’s a lot of expense that we have to incur,’ but I say, at some point in time…everybody has a little cross to bear, so to speak, and it just happened to fall on our watch,” Mauer said.
“Now the people who are here for the next 100 years will be able to enjoy what we’ve provided them.”
Once they get enough donations to work on a window, McHale and Mauer both agree restoration is no easy task.
“A typical church window takes about 120 days (to restore), but we’ve been trying for 90,” McHale said. “I’ve been on scaffolds on Christmas Eve trying to get these in … but there’s just so much involved.”
The complete renovation of each window involves McHale taking the panels to his studio in Connecticut. He disassembles them to clean, replaces the lead strips that hold the pieces together and repairs any broken pieces.
Back at the church, the wooden frames surrounding the windows are also cleaned and restored. Finally, when the window is put back in place, it gets protective coatings on each side.
Before McHale brings the windows back, plywood panels are put in the window’s place, something that’s presented a few “interesting issues” to church members, Mauer said.
“When you’re talking about four months’ worth of windows being gone from a church, for people who want weddings and other types of things, and you got plywood there … you got to be careful about that,” Mauer said.
While McHale said he’s encountered displeasure from a wedding party or two unhappy with the plywood, he said for the most part, people have been happy with the work he’s done.
“It’s rewarding, very rewarding,” McHale said.
“I’ve had women cry, just cry … who have sat next to these windows forever, and say to me, ‘Oh, our windows are absolutely beautiful now.’”
Through feedback from Mauer and a few other church staff members, McHale has also redesigned a few of the panels.
Some of the darker-colored pieces have been replaced with lighter and more vibrant colors to allow extra light into the sanctuary, and a border was taken out of one of two of the panels to make the design more open.
“We’re trying to keep the same feel of the window but yet at the same time improve it where we can,” Mauer said.
After finishing up two of the sanctuary’s windows last week, McHale won’t be back to Frankfort until August or September to finish working on the five remaining windows.
In the meantime, Mauer said he’s hoping members and non-members, will notice how “gorgeous” and clean the restored windows look.
“It’s not only viewable from the inside, but there’s such a difference from the outside.”
“I’m hoping it’ll last us another 100 years.”