Senior Pastor Joe Peabody and the congregation at First United Methodist Church in Dalton recently acquired a little piece of “Heaven on Earth.”

At least that is how they feel about 14 new stained glass windows and the way the sunlight beams through the colorful glass.

“I know more than a few members who feel that way,” said Peabody.

The windows, which replaced the original windows installed when the church on South Thornton Avenue was built in 1953, were designed by Rich Buswell of Lynchburg Stained Glass in Virginia and donated by church member V.D. Parrott and his family.

Peabody would not say what the project cost, but he did say the windows are insured for $250,000.

Nine scenes from the Bible line the side walls of the sanctuary, towering over churchgoers at about 14 feet tall. Two slightly smaller windows in the stairwells to the balcony feature images of biblical prophets.

In the balcony are three smaller windows that display the chief symbols of the modern day Methodist Church: the logo of the United Methodist Church (a cross and a flame), a seashell (representing baptism) and a cup and a wafer (the symbols of communion).

The windows around the sanctuary have a consistent design. Each features a border of grapevines, a central character or characters in the middle, a cross above (each window with a unique cross) and a symbol below that represents the story being told.

“My idea of art,” explained Peabody, “is that you can look at it the first time, and the second, and third, and fourth, and every time you’ll find something new to focus on. These windows give you so much to look at.”

Each window is divided into horizontal segments using the existing framework from the original windows. Peabody said he wanted it to look as if the scenes were taking place through the windows. This is also why there are a blue sky and white clouds in the background of every scene.

Members of the congregation are so pleased with the new windows that one member told Peabody it would not matter what he preached about for the next few weeks because no one would be listening anyway.

Peabody said church officials decided to feature scenes from the Bible because they believe the windows can be used as a teaching tool.

On one side of the sanctuary the windows have stories from the Old Testament, including the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, and Moses and the Ten Commandments. The windows on the other side depict the life of Jesus, including a nativity scene and the crucifixion.

“When stained glass was first used in churches, it was to help tell the stories of the Bible,” Peabody said. “Most people were illiterate back then. Now, many people are not knowledgeable about the Bible. Our hope is that people will come to church, see these windows and ask us about the stories.”

The design for the windows was approved by church leaders last summer and the creation of the windows took about six months. The windows were installed in late November over three days.

Peabody said to truly appreciate the art of stained glass, one must understand the process.

Once scaled designs are approved, the drawings are enlarged to the actual size of the window. This provides glass cutters with patterns they can use to cut the glass by hand.

“At Lynchburg we have five glass cutters. They cut each piece of glass that goes into every window by hand,” said Melanie Kirkpatrick, office manager for Lynchburg Stained Glass.

Once the glass is cut, workers put the window together sort of like a puzzle.

Explained Kirkpatrick, “The lead framing is easy to bend, so the glass pieces are put together and the framing bent around it.”

The color that makes the glass so interesting to look at comes from two techniques. The basic colors are made when minerals are mixed with molten glass. Different minerals produce different colors: gold makes cranberry, silver makes yellows and golds, and copper makes greens and reds.

When a window requires details like shadows or shading, artists can paint on the colored glass with metal oxides. Then the glass is fired in a kiln, which bonds the oxides to the glass and makes the painting permanent.

The windows in First United Methodist feature both of these techniques.

According to the Stained Glass Association of America, the art of stained glass was begun in Eastern Asia among Muslim designers. It gained popularity between 1150 and 1250 with the construction of Gothic cathedrals.

The large windows afforded more lighting and were thought of as symbols of divine grace. During the 19th century, a renewed interest in Gothic design caused a revival of stained glass windows.

After centuries of repeated styles and little innovation, the art form underwent a rebirth of style during the rebuilding of Europe after World War II. The impetus was the reconstruction of damaged or destroyed churches.

Today there are stained glass studios across the country and a few university and college programs where one can learn the craft.

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