Photo by Charity Maness/Fall River County Herald-Star
Scaffolding within the sanctuary needed to access and restore the massive nave stain glass.
By Charity Maness
HOT SPRINGS – The United Churches in Hot Springs recently received a long awaited restoration of the sanctuary’s many intricate stained glass windows.
Formed in 1920 when the local Baptists and Presbyterians were invited to join the Methodists; the inaugural service of The Untied Churches was held in the Presbyterian Church on Happy Hollow.
As the oldest federated church west of the Mississippi, the church has had a few locations, with the cornerstone of the current location laid and dedicated in 1951. A majority of the current structure was built from the sandstone blocks of the old Hot Springs airport hangar.
According to Cora Reid, window project committee member, the original stained glassed Gothic shaped windows were installed in 1953 and 1954.
Though it became apparent to the congregation in 2019 that the windows were in desperate need of restoration, the ultimate decision to move forward with the project was driven home during the pandemic. That is when the congregation attended church a little differently, not only via a Facebook thread, but also in the parking lot in their personal cars via radio with a clear view of the church’s faded windows.
The windows, though visions of beauty viewed from the inside, were hard to see on the outside due to the weathering of the exterior Plexiglas coverings. In addition to the aged protective covers, the lead within the stained glass panels themselves were showing signs of distress.
“I remember thinking, ‘Here they are, these windows, they are so beautiful, we enjoy them so much from the inside, it would be so wonderful if we could not only protect them but to be able to enjoy them from the outside too’,” said Reid.
“Prior to the restoration you, couldn’t even see the beautiful windows unless the lights were on inside,” said Peg Sperlich, Administrative Assistant United Churches, “so it is so exciting watching the restoration.”
With help from fellow window committee member Pat Collogan, Reid began jumping through the many hoops of funding, researching and final completion of the window preservation project.
The church family met their financial goal in the Spring of 2020 and contracted with Bovard Studio, Inc., of Fairfield, Iowa, to complete the restoration.
“We have been so blessed by the generosity and support of the congregation,” said Reid. “We all just want them (the windows) to be preserved for generations to come.”
“The most difficult part of this job is the scaffolding; setting up to get to the window safely,” said Bovard Studio foreman Javier Vela. “Yet, it is so rewarding seeing the end result of our restoration work.”
The crew travels several months out of the year, covering a multi-state area with their specialty glass restoration, so they have seen it all when it comes to the quality and condition of stain glass windows.
“These windows are in really good shape comparatively,” said restoration specialist Nick DeRuiter, but he added that each one showed signs of aging.
Vela’s crew spent many days, some in excess of 100 degrees, cementing the windows to strengthen the lead and to clean the glass to its highest shine possible prior to covering each Gothic window with laminated glass which will offer crystal clear protection against the elements for years to come.
“Cementing not only brings out the shine it brings out the texture of the glass,” said DeRuiter, “it is my favorite part of the job.”
The completion timing couldn’t have been better as the church is celebrating its 100 year anniversary on Sunday, Sept. 6 and will unveil the stunning restoration with a service held in the sanctuary at 10 am, social distancing in place, followed by a celebration picnic held outside from 12 noon to 3 pm.
“There will be historical documents and artifacts on display as well as a 100th anniversary brochure filled with church history, missions, memories and more,” said Sperlich.
“What has really impressed me the most is the church family has taken this time as a time of moving forward,” said Rev. Dr. David A. Cook. “The folks here, they like to take initiative and even during trying times, they come out ahead of the game; we just didn’t let this pandemic get us down or slow our vision. The restoration and outreach is good for the entire community. This is so encouraging for me as a pastor.”
For more information about The United Churches visit www.unitedchurcheshotsprings.org/