For over a century, the stained-glass windows at Dorchester’s First Baptist Church have survived a fire, a flood, and various vandalism incidents, including holes pierced by BB gun pellets and rocks, with amateur repairs done along the way.
Now, as the windows are being removed one-by-one for professional restoration, Karen MacNutt, deacon at First Baptist, notes that the work is part of an effort “to bring the church back to what it was.”
The stained-glass windows, she added, are “part of the tranquility of the building. For the neighborhood, it’s a piece of artwork that people walking by see, and it’s much prettier to see the stained-glass window rather than a piece of plywood.”
The large, half dome-shaped window at the top of the church was removed late last month and, along with two other windows, sent along for repairs by Stained Glass Resources, Inc.
For now, pieces of plywood have replaced the amber and turquoise panes of glass.
The window rehabilitation is the second phase of a three-part project funded by grant money from the Henderson Foundation and church donations of nearly $33,000 to date.
Without the two $40,000 grants from the foundation, MacNutt said, the church would never have been able to make the repairs.
The Henderson philanthropy supplies grants to projects that are focused on preserving and enhancing outdoor structures in Boston. The 73-year-old MacNutt said she is currently applying for another grant through the foundation, and also working on collecting an additional $15,000. She hopes the project will be completed by Christmas 2022.
First Baptist’s initial congregation first gathered at the Village of Neponset meeting house in 1836. As its numbers continued to grow, the church moved to its current location on Ashmont Street at the corner of Adams in 1907 around the time when the stained-glass windows were installed.
In 1926, a fire gutted the church, but the windows were left intact. Then, in 2005, water from a broken water line on adjacent Elmer Road flooded the church, pooling nearly four feet high and upending the wooden floorboards.
Underneath the boards, MacNutt said, there were charred wood and ash from the 1926 fire. As the windows have been removed for restoration, MacNutt added, workers have found soot caked into the crevices of the stained-glass works.
“It was a nasty fire, so that the windows survived is just amazing,” she said.
In an interview, Dorchester Historical Society President Earl Taylor said that, from a historical preservation perspective, it’s good that First Baptist is repairing rather than replacing the windows, which are distinguished by one that is decorated with religious symbols, including the pillars of Solomon, the star of Bethlehem, a beehive symbolic of Christian communities working together, and a Maltese cross.
“Churches have some of our best architecture,” he said. “They’re always special, of course, because the parishioners want to have something that is special to them.”
When the symbol-rich window returns from restoration in late December, the sun will shine through its polished surfaces and dot the floor with shades of blue and amber.
“You’re sitting inside the building,” MacNutt said of the windows that have been restored, “and when it’s getting dark, the windows look like they have spotlights coming in.”
While parishioners come and go, she said, and the neighborhood changes around the church, the building has withstood the test of time and the trials of fire and flood.
“It’s a tough old building,” MacNutt said admiringly, “so I have to figure the good Lord wants it to stick around for a little longer.”