Pane by pane, a stained-glass extravaganza takes shape in Leawood

This stained-glass window will be the centerpiece for Resurrection Church’s new sanctuary

The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood is installing a 37 feet high by 93 feet across stained-glass window as the centerpiece of a new sanctuary which will be finished before Easter next year. The 161 panels of glass depict st
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The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood is installing a 37 feet high by 93 feet across stained-glass window as the centerpiece of a new sanctuary which will be finished before Easter next year. The 161 panels of glass depict st

Five feet tall and 4 feet wide, stained glass panel 8C represents the Old Testament story of Daniel in the lion’s den.

You may well miss it, however, among the 160 other panels — all the same size, all swirling with color. They are being assembled to create one whopping window in the sanctuary under construction at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, home to the largest Methodist congregation in the nation.

The church foresees the stained-glass extravaganza, designed to last for centuries, as a destination point for visitors to Kansas City.

FYI: Daniel is six panels right of the Tree of Knowledge, two panels below the creation of the cosmos, catercorner a ways from the Nativity and 15 feet from the center of a giant image of Jesus extending his arms.

Designer Tim Carey dropped in from Los Angeles this month for installation of the second of three truckloads of stained glass. The panel of Daniel with a docile lion was among dozens hoisted into place, each pane weighing a bit more than a hundred pounds.

Carey explained how the finished window, 37 feet high and almost 100 feet across, will illuminate a narrative as epic as any: Between Adam and Eve on the left and 20th century civil rights leaders on the right, more than 70 religious and historical figures are depicted.

Two years ago, when Carey rolled out a rendering of his design to a stained glass master from Italy, the master said: “Whoa. How the hell you going to do that?”

And yet by working together from California’s Judson Studios, the Gen-Xer Carey and the master — a septuagenarian named Narcissus Quagliata — helped create Resurrection Window, which they call the only display of its kind in the world.

“I can look now at every section and tell you why we did it, how we did it, what the weather was like and how many beers we had at the end of the day,” Carey said.

Some tweaking is still to be done. (Church of the Resurrection requested just two weeks ago that an image of Montgomery, Ala., bus boycotter Rosa Parks be worked into the mix.) Pastor Adam Hamilton and his megachurch’s membership have been assured that all 161 panels will be up by March.

After permanent lighting is installed inside the unfinished sanctuary, passers-by outside the church near 135th Street and Roe Avenue should see the display shimmering through a massive wall of clear glass facing northwest.

And services are slated to commence just before Easter in the 3,500-seat sanctuary. The sanctuary is part of a $93 million expansion project mostly paid for by church members and other donors who contributed to a capital campaign earlier this decade. A separate fundraising effort over the past year furnished the window.

The building project has drawn some criticism for its extravagance. But that glass is something to see.

What does Jesus look like?

From the new building’s circular balcony, church communications director Cathy Bien gazed at the emerging edifice above the altar and said of its central figure, “He’s not a blue-eyed Sunday school Jesus.”

His eyes, in fact, aren’t of any single color. Wisps of brown, orange, pink and gold dance in the pupils. Even more colors — olives and magentas, yellows and reds — appear on Jesus’ face and hands.

That’s by design. The kaleidoscopic hues signify that “everyone sees Jesus differently and in their own way, often times as a reflection of themselves,” said Hamilton, who founded the church 25 years ago.

“He was not Caucasian.” Such was Hamilton’s message to the church committee that chose the window’s artists and proposed the themes. Members considered the physical depiction of Jesus as potentially such a delicate issue, some talked of portraying him as a faceless figure. Or as just a cross.

They settled on a multicolored man.

Adam and Eve provoked similar discussions.

Hamilton’s penchant for scientific discovery compelled the pastor to advocate that the couple have African qualities. “Scientists say the first homo sapiens emerged from Africa,” he noted, giving way to the stained-glass pair having darker skin than what usually is depicted in Western art.

Two living legends made the cut: Evangelist Billy Graham and Korean Bishop Kim Sundo. Catholic, Jewish and Protestant figures blend together.

Other elements of the window are specific to the Church of the Resurrection — the image of Matthew Joyner one of them.

Joyner, of Leawood, died in 2005 at age 21. He was born severely disabled. His family’s membership in the church inspired the creation of Matthew’s Ministry, serving persons with special needs and supported by more than 300 volunteers.

In the glass Joyner is reading a book to a young girl. “Matthew never spoke in life,” said church spokeswoman Bien, “and here he is represented in heaven reading this story.”

Another special request came from Resurrection member Mindy Corporon, whose father and young son were shot to death in April 2014 by an anti-Semite outside the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park.

After the tragedy Corporon mentioned to Hamilton that she noticed yellow butterflies fluttering about, which uplifted her. So a monarch butterfly originally designed in the glass was changed to yellow.

A regional attraction

Several Church of the Resurrection volunteers gathered this month to meet with glass designer Carey and Judson Studios owner David Judson to hear the story behind Resurrection Window.

The church members intend to train tour guides in retelling the story. Carrie O’Hern, for one, expects the $3.4 million window to become a huge regional attraction.

“For me it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said O’Hern, a retired art director of Hallmark who serves on the church’s Sacred Arts Committee. “I think God has been trying to train me my whole life to do this.”

The tour-training group was allowed into the enclosed construction site behind the stained glass facing the sanctuary. There, installer Luis Porras held in one hand a paper grid of where each pane was to go — panel 1A to 8F — keeping in mind that the sequence from behind the stained glass was reverse from what churchgoers would see.

Some panels are so abstract, the crew from Judson Studio must be careful not to install them upside-down, Porras said: “With each one it’s about double-checking and triple-checking.”

What makes this window most unique, beyond its size, is how the artistry combines traditional stained glass construction with a heating process that fuses bits of color together. Many panels feature Carey’s paint strokes; others show Quagliata’s technique of melding a variety of glass chips into one.

How long might this work of art last?

“We’re saying 700 to 1,000 years,” said Carey. He noted that stained glass displays in other parts of the world have existed for nearly half a millennium, exposed to the elements. This window, contained behind larger exterior glass, would be protected from rain, winds and extreme temperatures.

There’s a risk in shipping 161 finished glass panels from California, but a truck driver from North Carolina is honored to do it — and not one pane has yet chipped or cracked.

Once at the church, the panels are individually hoisted into place, brushed of dust, and secured into aluminum supports that screw into a thick, steel skeleton grid.

The frame of Daniel in the lion’s den took less than a half-hour to raise from the floor and install.

On Dec. 13 the crew stepped aside to allow pastor Hamilton, designer Carey and studio owner Judson to screw in panel 5G.

Fourteen little hex bolts about an inch long do the trick in securing each pane.

The installers used a cordless drill to show Hamilton how to do it. Dzzzt, dzzzt — in a few seconds the first screw of 5G was in.

“If I’d known it was that easy,” quipped the pastor, “I would’ve built this myself.”

Rick Montgomery: 816-234-4410, @rmontgomery_r