MAXTON — When sunlight hits the stained glass windows at St. Pauls United Methodist Church, the large portraits of Jesus burst with vivid color and a soft, stately glow washes over the sanctuary.
For more than a century, the Maxton church has been synonymous with its ornate windows. Though still eye-catching, the 23 glass panels have lost some of their luster to deterioration — stirring concerns about their durability among the congregation.
“If we lost the windows, we’d probably lose the church,” said Henry Carter, former chairman of the church’s finance committee.
In January, Carter and other members of St. Pauls United Methodist began researching companies that specialize in the preservation of stained glass windows. Initial quotes far exceeded the church’s budget, which is subsidized by a congregation of about 200 people.
Recognizing the historical significance of the 106-year-old windows, the Preservation Maxton Foundation boosted the project with a “large” grant. The foundation’s gift led to the formation of the Save Our Windows Steering Committee in May.
“Our motto is, ‘Save the windows and preserve the church for future generations,’” said Betty Hasty, the committee’s chairwoman.
Workers from Salem Stained Glass Inc. began removing panes of glass from the church’s sanctuary a couple of weeks ago. The $325,000 project is expected to last about 90 days.
Salem Stained Glass repaired a suite of windows at a church in Newberry, South Carolina, that are believed to have been designed by Theodore and Ludwig Von Gerichten. After immigrating from Germany during the late-1800s, the brothers became highly sought-after stained glass artists.
Seeing similarities in the windows at St. Pauls United Methodist, a preservationist involved with the Newberry project said he was “99 percent certain” they were painted by the Von Gerichten brothers.
“If we can prove they were done by those famous artists, the value would significantly increase,” Carter said.
Few records remain from the church’s early years, but it’s widely known that one of the stained glass windows was donated by the late Henry McKinnon Sr., a prominent judge from Lumberton.
Members of the committee believe that by preserving the windows, they’re helping to keep the legacy of local leaders like McKinnon alive.
St. Pauls United Methodist has launched an “Adopt-a-Window” campaign to help cover the cost of the restoration. The campaign allows people to donate money to specific windows at the church.
Katherine Carter, a Sunday school teacher and wife of Henry, says the painted panels offer a rare window to the town’s past.
“When you come into this church, you really get a sense of reverence,” she said. “So many things in Maxton have disappeared, and this is one of the things that can be saved.”
For information, visit spumcmaxton.com.