(written by Robert M. Sandfort)
On a number of occasions, I have heard members speculating about the origin of our Fellowship Hall stain glass window. Perhaps first a bit of historical background is in order for context. Prior to the beginning of construction of the Fellowship Hall, the area between what was then Madison Street and First Capitol Drive, had to be cleared of several existing homes fronting on Sixth Street and a fruit and vegetable stand at the corner of Sixth and First Capitol. These various properties, as well as those north of Madison Street up to the site of the former parsonage just south of the sanctuary had been acquired by the congregation in previous years with an eye toward eventual facilities expansion for our growing congregation. A building committee, headed by Erwin Mueller, was formed to guide the Fellowship Hall construction project. I was a member of the committee. The congregation presented its plan for future development to the Landmarks Board of the City and to the City Council. This included the eventual closure of that section of Madison Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets. The City Council gave its approval. Elmer Wind, principal architect with the Wind Architectural Group, was engaged to design the Fellowship Hall and to specify the materials of construction.
After a number of discussions with the architect, it was decided that a large window would be appropriate to position at the south end of the building. Such a window would bathe the interior with light, particularly during the winter months. In concert with the notion that the new Fellowship Hall would, on occasion, be used for large worship gatherings, it was further concluded that the window should generally be of a circular form, to carry over the theme of the circular window behind the altar of the sanctuary. It was also decided that the window should consist of stained glass. Because of the heavy bearing load of this south-facing wall, it was concluded that a semi-circular form would be best, with vertical windows below a supporting beam interspersed with brick columns. This approach would allow for a much larger window than might otherwise be possible.
Much discussion followed, both within the building committee and with the congregation members more broadly as to the form this window should take and what image should be displayed in the upper and lower portions of the windows. Consideration was given to some type of geometric pattern as is true of the round sanctuary window, but the consensus was that a representation of a biblical theme would be better. The Emil Frei Company, a well-known local St. Louis stain glass company was engaged to design the window. Several committee members visited the Emil Frei Company to get a better understanding of the options available and to engage first-hand with the Emil Frei artists and constructors. Because the window was to be placed in a south-facing wall, where occasional strong winds were to be expected from the south, the window would need to be reasonably thick. We were advised that the least expensive approach would be to have one of Emil Frei’s artists paint an image onto sections of clear glass. However, this approach was also the one that would have the shortest lifespan. The committee decided against this approach. Other considerations were also important, such as the overall impression of “darkness” that might result if there were too many small glass elements set in lead borders. It was also important that the design not appear incongruous and out of place in a more contemporary overall building design. The Emil Frei company recommended a modern approach using one-inch-thick segments of colored glass with “faceted” edges. This treatment is intended to “glisten” and “sparkle” when hit by sunlight. The effect is created by rapping the edges of the individual glass elements with a steel hammer, slightly chipping the edges. The committee accepted this approach. What remained to be decided was the most important aspect of all, the design of the window image itself.
The various boards and committees of the congregation, in addition to the pastoral and teaching staff members were solicited for design concepts. After much internal discussion of suggested designs, two concepts were given to the Emil Frei artists to sketch out. The first, the one not ultimately chosen, was the concept of a “tree of life,” consisting of a tree with full foliage and part of the trunk in the upper large window with trailing vine-like limbs descending into the vertical windows below, as well as the lower part of the trunk in the center. The rounded crown of the tree was to conform to the arched shape of the top of the upper window, and all elements of the tree were to be set in a light-blue opaque background. The artist’s sketch was quite attractive. The second design, the one ultimately chosen, presented the opportunity to meld the old and new testaments of the bible. This image pictured Moses kneeling before the burning bush as described in the Old Testament, with a golden chalice below, seemingly extending behind the brick columns. The chalice would represent that used to contain the wine of communion as instructed by Christ in the New Testament. To further incorporate New Testament theology, the chalice rests in the blue waters of baptism, and a small red cross is placed in the bottom of the center vertical window. Since the bottom of the chalice could be made round, the complete image represents the entire world of Christian theology as contained in the bible.
Comments were again solicited on the artistic renderings of the two designs from all the previously canvassed groups and individuals, and a vote by the committee was taken on which design should be used. There was substantial support in the congregation for both designs, but the second design was the one favored by the majority. After installation of the window was complete, the committee members were pleased with the result overall, but were a bit surprised by the prominence of Moses’ eye, hands and feet, particularly his eye. That aspect of the artist’s rendering had not been so apparent on paper as it turned out to be in the window itself.
Tragically, our committee chairman, Erwin Mueller, was diagnosed with terminal cancer during the course of the project and was not allowed the full measure of congregational thanks for his two years of effort. Erwin Mueller passed away on February 25, 1998, just four months after the Fellowship Hall dedication in October of 1997. A simple stone plaque embedded in the wall at the entrance to the Fellowship Hall pays tribute to Erwin Mueller’s leadership.