Window fulfills church's design Renovation: Almost 50 years after Grace United Methodist on Charles Street opened, the installation of a stained-glass window completes the architect's vision.

Urban Landscape

November 26, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

WHEN Philadelphia architect Hensel Fink designed Grace United Methodist Church on Charles Street, his plans called for a large stained-glass window to be installed above the altar on the eastern end of the sanctuary.

Although the church opened in 1951, the stained-glass window was not completed at that time. But the architect's vision for the altar was realized this year when Grace's congregation installed a stained-glass window in the spot reserved for it nearly 50 years ago.

The window came from the former Wilson Memorial United Methodist Church at University Parkway and Charles Street, a building whose congregation was merged with Grace's in 1996. The University Parkway building was sold to the Johns Hopkins University for use as an interfaith center. As a condition of the sale, Grace's congregation asked that one of the windows at Wilson be moved to Grace's sanctuary to serve as a "remembrance" of the other church and to finish the worship space as Fink planned it.

"We have completed the architect's original vision," said Dr. Emora T. Brannan, senior pastor at Grace. "Now that it's here, it almost looks like it has always been here. It belongs. It fits."

The stained-glass window was cleaned, structurally reinforced and installed by Artisan Glassworks as part of a $500,000 sanctuary restoration completed over the past several months. The refurbished space will be reconsecrated at 10 a.m. Sunday.

Another key change was the addition of a five-keyboard organ console that controls 61 ranks of pipes from the church's original Moller organ and 60 ranks of new digital sounds. Other improvements include a new Steinway piano, a new sound system, reconstruction of the chancel to add slate flooring and eliminate steps for people receiving Communion, and installation of new draperies, brass wall sconces and blue carpeting in the main sanctuary.

A carving of Jesus the Shepherd was moved from the altar area to the rear wall above the balcony. The pews were refinished, and the walls have been repainted in shades of white that highlight the architectural details, echo the new window and brighten the worship space.

"It's much lighter than it was," Brannan said. "If you had been in here before, you'd have said it was white. But it was really not. It was brown. This has created an almost ethereal atmosphere in here. In the sunlight, it has a sense of airiness and openness that's really quite remarkable."

The chancel's slate floor has greatly enhanced the acoustics, he added. "It's a wonderful space for music now. The sound is almost like that of a great cathedral, because of its reverberation."

Founded in 1868, Grace represents the blending of four congregations. The original church was Grace Methodist Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square. It merged with Roland Park Methodist Episcopal Church on Roland Avenue and North Baltimore Methodist Protestant Church on Mount Royal Avenue before moving to the new building at 5407 N. Charles St. Grace has 1,300 members after merging with Wilson. Its sanctuary seats 700.

Brannan said the renovation represented the first major improvement to the sanctuary since it was constructed. He said it was prompted by the merger with Wilson and the desire by the combined congregation to create a more flexible worship space, while retaining the formality and simplicity of the building's Georgian design.

Kann & Associates of Baltimore was the architect and construction manager. NSC Contractors was the general contractor.

Besides fulfilling the original design for the church, Brannan said, the window helped set the theme for the campaign the church launched to pay for the repairs. "It depicts Jesus blessing the children," he said. "In a sense, it's become the motto for our capital campaign: 'Grace for the 21st century. Let God's children come.' "

The sanctuary improvements represent the first phase of a two-part renovation expected to cost $1.5 million. The second phase involves improvements to the rest of the church property, including a new mechanical system, remodeling of classrooms, upgrading electricity and lighting, and repaving the parking lot. Work is expected to begin next summer.

A dedication concert for the organ console will be held at 4: 30 p.m. Dec. 6. It is the first in a series of concerts planned to give people an opportunity to see and hear the improvements at Grace Church, considered one of Fink's best designs.

"This always was an extraordinarily fine expression of the Georgian or Colonial style [of church architecture], but now it's really pre-eminent," Brannan said. "We believe that it's one of the most beautiful spaces in Baltimore."

Pub Date: 11/26/98

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