The Story of Our Stained Glass Windows

The artist of our windows is John Wallis, of the Wallis-Wiley Studio in Pasadena. He has done most of the stained glass windows in Protestant churches in the area, including Northbrae and Orinda churches, and the Chapel of the Great Commission at the Pacific School of Religion.

The committee that arranged for the window design desired to have a delicate touch of stained glass for beauty without making the windows the dominant feature of the Sanctuary. They are based off of the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) spoken by Jesus in the book of Matthew. The windows were prepared for beauty of color, design and symbolism. All of the symbols that are used are traditional in the Christian Church. The treatment of these symbols is to some extent abstract, and they are carefully integrated into the overall design.

The window on the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), or lectern side, of the church portrays the first part of the Great Commandment, which is the commandment to love God. This portion of Jesus’ words come almost verbatim from the “Shema,” found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The “Shema” (meaning “Hear!”) is regularly considered to be the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures; the command off of which every command is based. It has continuted, from antiquity until today, to be a central part of Jewish identity and prayer. Jesus manifests his Jewish identity when he quotes the Shema as the greatest commandment. In our stained glass, this commandment is symbolized in a beautiful way. God is represented by the symbol of the Trinity (three circles attached to one), and loving God is expressed by a rose, a traditional symbol of love. The ways in which a person loves God are with all one’s heart, which is itself a symbol; with all one’s soul, represented by a bird; with all one’s mind, represented by a nine-pointed star, symbolic of the fruits of the Spirit; and with all one’s strength, represented by an oak leaf. While the “Shema” commands Israel to love God with all their heart, soul, and strength, in the book of Matthew, Jesus replaces “strength” with “mind”. The stained glass combines these two Scriptural excerpts in a wonderful way that displays the integration of the New Testament writings with those of the Hebrew Scriptures. At ACC, we choose to see the New Testament as a part of the whole of Scripture. We therefore do not consider the New Testament as having superceded the Hebrew Scriptures. Instead, we see the entire Bible as a product of an historical people group, and a representation of humanity’s striving to know and describe the Divine.

The window on the New Testament (or pulpit) side depicts the second part of the Great Commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. Love of one’s neighbor is expressed by a rose and several earthen vessels, which are traditional symbols of humanity. One is white, one red, one yellow, one black and one brown to indicate the various races of humankind. The ways in which love of one’s neighbor may be expressed are many and varied, but they are represented in the glass as a water lily (a traditional symbol of charity) to express good works, a censor of smoke rising to Heaven to express prayer, a lighted lamp to express knowledge and understanding, and an olive branch to express a continual striving for peace and brotherhood.

In the North clerestory windows at the back of the sanctuary, the windows represent aspects of the Great Commission, which is to go into the world and make disciples. This can only be done with the help of the Christian sacraments, the strengthening power of the Holy Spirit, and with the aid of the Word of God. The sacraments are baptism, represented by a scallop shell, and communion, represented by wheat and grapes. A dove and flames are symbolic of the Holy Spirit, and four streams of water carrying through the two windows represent the spread of the Word of God.

 

We hope that next time you are in the santuary, you can view these windows and appreciate the rich meaning and beautiful artistry that are evident in them!