CLARKSVILLE – It’s taken a lot of prayer, but Clarksville United Methodist Church is seeing its faith manifested.
The tiny congregation is celebrating the end of its “Save Our Stained Glass Windows” campaign. In a little less than five years — about half the time originally planned — the parish has raised almost $80,000 to renovate the sanctuary’s elegant stained glass.
The money has come in through chicken, fish and soup dinners, notecard and print sales, a quilt raffle, tithes and donations. The church also got a grant last year from the Missouri United Methodist Foundation.
“It is an example of what happens when there are a lot of prayers and a lot of people stepping out through faith without assurances of a happy ending,” said Janie Busch, s church member who helped organize the campaign. “I’m elated.”
The four sides of the 111-year-old building feature original panes of vibrant, elegant colors with Biblical symbols and the names of previous pastors and pioneer members. During a storm in 2013, Busch noticed water running down a window – on the inside.
“I thought ‘If we don’t do something, the building will eventually collapse,”’ she said.
Options were discussed. With fewer than 15 people at most Sunday services, there were legitimate questions about the cost effectiveness of an upgrade. The idea seemed even more impractical when the first bid came in at $300,000. Busch had to laugh to keep from crying.
“I looked around the sanctuary at the nine people who were there the next Sunday and wondered ‘How many times am I going to have to pass the collection plate to reach $300,000?”’ she said.
When Art Glass Limited of St. Louis offered a lower bid that it guaranteed for 10 years, the church decided to proceed. There was still a doubting Thomas or two.
“I didn’t think there was any way we could raise $80,000 in 10 years,” Busch admitted.
Faith would prevail. The congregation put its trust in the Bible and its hopes in the community. The campaign began at Clarksville Applefest in October 2014. The fried chicken dinner, scheduled to last three hours, sold out of food in 90 minutes, with some would-be customers leaving contributions for the restoration and then walking out hungry. For Busch, it was a light-bulb moment.
“I realized the windows are icons,” she said. “They don’t just represent Clarksville United Methodist Church. They represent what we’re supposed to be doing – open hearts, open minds open doors and hope. We had people come in and say ‘I’ve never been in this building before, but I’ve always loved your stained glass windows.’”
Donations came from around the corner and across the nation as people learned of the effort. Busch said the achievement would not have been possible without the contributions of families, friends and strangers. A thank you breakfast was served last December as the church realized the goal was in sight.
“We were blessed,” Busch said. “I knew it could not be done with just the support of the congregation.”
Serving as an inspiration was church member and organist Wayne Smiley. Before his death in 2016, the 76-year-old retired educator and antique store owner had championed the restoration. His wife, Clarksville Mayor Jo Anne Smiley, said he would be proud of the successful campaign.
The windows “are special in terms of carrying the light of the message of what we stand for,” she said. “That glorious beam that comes to you speaks loudly.”
Greg Mowery of Art Glass Unlimited said the windows were “in pretty fair condition for their age.” The firm did waterproofing and glazing. The biggest challenge was fixing rot to the wood frames on the north side of the sanctuary.
“They are pretty nice windows and I’m glad to see they’re saving them,” Mowery said. “So many times, churches will just take them out and discard them because of the expense.”
To a few, the fruitful campaign is no surprise. Clarksville United Methodist doesn’t shy away from big projects. The roof was replaced in 2007, steeple work was done during the building centennial in 2008, and basement and kitchen renovations were completed in 2013. A formal dedication of the renovated windows is planned for a later date.
The congregation, which traces its roots to the 1830s, also has gotten worldwide publicity for opening its doors to volunteers who battle ever-more-frequent Mississippi River floods. Seven of Clarksville’s top 10 inundations have happened since 2000, and this year’s deluge came in second behind only that of 1993.
Busch and other volunteers served 4,592 meals to displaced residents and flood fighters this spring and summer, or the equivalent of 10 times the town’s population. It wasn’t something that had to be thought about.
“When they come in, it’s like Christmas at grandma’s house,” Busch said. “We’re going to spoil them.”