An effort to restore the century-old stained-glass windows at St. Paul A.M.E. Church downtown got a big boost after the church opened its doors and invited the public to see the windows from the inside.
More than 125 people attended an open house at the church last Sunday organized by the Wake County Historical Society. The society has pledged to help the historic African-American church reach its goal of raising $144,000 for the windows.
During the event and in the days that followed, the church received $41,000 in donations, including gifts from people who “adopted” windows, paying as much as $4,000 each for a full restoration.
“We were very, very, very excited about what happened,” said Ed Wills, the church trustee in charge of the windows project. “Not only because of the money raised, but because of how many people from the community were there supporting it.”
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St. Paul A.M.E. had been struggling to raise money to restore the 75 stained-glass windows in the wake of other restoration projects in the building, which was rebuilt in 1910 after a devastating fire. After several months, a gofundme page set up to raise money for the windows had generated just $60.
A News & Observer article about the windows last summer generated more than $20,000 in donations, still short of what was needed. So the historical society decided to launch its own campaign, including Sunday’s adopt-a-window open house.
The Rev. Gregory Edmond welcomed everyone to St. Paul A.M.E. and spoke about its history as Wake’s oldest black church, dating back to 1848. The church is a Raleigh historic landmark and one of only three downtown Raleigh churches on the National Register of Historic Places.
The church is a Raleigh historic landmark and one of only three downtown Raleigh churches on the National Register of Historic Places.
Mike Strickland of Stained Glass Associates in Knightdale described the restoration process, which entails taking apart the hundreds of pieces of glass that make up each window, cleaning them and reassembling them with fresh lead solder. He said the restored windows should be good for another 100 to 120 years.
“What really happens when we restore these windows is we’re bringing them back to their original state,” he said.
Members of the church had adopted a half-dozen windows before the event started, and the historical society adopted one as well. President Brenda Holloman presented Edmond with a check for $4,000.
“This is one of the most beautiful churches I have been in in my entire life,” Holloman said, addressing the crowd. “How many of you have driven by here 100 times and never been in?”
In accepting the check, Edmond said: “What you have done encourages us. ... You have simply made our day.”
Then people were let loose to explore the sanctuary and see the windows up close. Some church members answered questions about them, while others sat at a table in front of the pulpit, taking pledges and donations.
The event had the feel of an art exhibition and silent auction, only the artwork will remain in the church. The Raleigh Historic Development Commission chose to adopt one of the smallest windows along the north wall of the church, for $2,600.
This church is a piece of artwork. When you come in here, you feel it’s history. It’s a joy to be here.
Clyde Bailey Jr., owner of Bailey’s Fine Jewelry
“We were excited to be able to support one of our landmarks in a very specific way,” said board member Sarah David, who chose the window on behalf of the commission.
Each window includes images and symbols from the Bible, and many who adopted windows chose ones that meant something to them.
Clyde Bailey Jr., owner of Bailey’s Fine Jewelry, chose a tall one with an image of a rock and cross in a storm because it reminded him of his favorite song, “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.”
“To me it has a beautiful story behind it,” he said.
His wife, Jane, considered adopting a window, too, and briefly they thought they’d get ones side by side. But her favorite song, “The Anchor Holds,” was reflected in a window upstairs in the balcony.
Clyde Bailey said he drives by the church every Tuesday night after Bible study at Edenton Street United Methodist Church two blocks away, but had never been inside. “I never paid it much mind, to be honest with you,” he said.
He said he read about the adopt-a-window event in the newspaper and knew he had to do his part. Looking up at the sun shining through the windows on the dark wooden balconies and pews, he said, “This church is a piece of artwork. When you come in here, you feel its history. It’s a joy to be here.”