“Where Light Learns to Speak”

By: Anna Kate Beaudry 

In Mountain Brook, Alabama, a suburb over Red Mountain from Birmingham, sits Mountain Brook Baptist Church. The church’s sanctuary and chapel, unlike many modern Baptist churches, is adorned with beautiful stained-glass windows. Two of these windows, however, stand out more than the others. These two windows are known as the Chancel Windows. They hang at the front of the sanctuary and can be seen most clearly from outside of the church. When one enters the sanctuary, these floor to ceiling windows are the first thing you notice. The beautiful windows, all crafted by Willett Stained Glass Studio (now The Associated Crafts & Willet Hauser) each tell their own version of the Bible, none as important as the story of the gospel told by Chancel Windows which hang behind the pulpit on either side of the preacher.  

The History Behind the Church 

In 1942, Mountain Brook, Alabama, was incorporated into Jefferson County (Maloney). Two years later, some families formed a new church which would later be named Mountain Brook Baptist Church. The church started off very small and originally met in a home that is now the Mountain Brook Board of Education building (Rector). As the congregation began to grow, the members decided it was time to purchase land to build a church. They purchased 3.46 acres of land on the corner of Montevallo and Overbrook for $18,500 and began construction on the first part of the building, the chapel which was completed in 1949 (Allen). Today that same chapel adorned with stained-glass windows is still used, but the sanctuary which is also full of stained-glass windows, is more frequently used to hold their more than 2,000 church members (Rector).  

The History Behind the Windows 

When one walks into the sanctuary or chapel, the first thing they notice are the stained-glass windows created by the Willet stained glass studio in 1965 (Lewis). Mountain Brook residents who are not members of the church were asked what they think of when they think of Mountain Brook Baptist Church, and they mentioned either the Living Nativity the church puts on every year or the stained-glass windows (Rector). This proves just how much of an impact the windows truly have on everyone in the community. In 1898, the company now known as The Associated Crafts® & Willet Hauser® was founded. Since being founded, the company has created over 85,000 windows for churches and historic buildings for all 50 states and 14 different countries. Their work inside Mountain Brook Baptist truly lives up to the company’s motto “Where Light Learns to Speak.”  

A Detailed Look into the Chancel Windows 

The Chancel Windows together tell the story of the gospel. The left window, referred to as the Advent Window by Joe Lewis, mostly depicts scenes from the Old Testament and one story from the New Testament (Figure 1, Lewis). The right window, the Easter Window, focuses on the New Testament, specifically the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection (Figure 2, Lewis). In the first section of the bottom left window, Genesis 3 is illustrated by Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden after disobeying God’s one command. The second section depicts Genesis 22 where Abraham is commanded to kill his son as a sacrifice to the Lord but just as he is about to sacrifice him, the Lord gives Abraham a lamb to sacrifice instead. The third section depicts Moses receiving the Ten Commandments from God while on Mount Sinai. The fourth section portrays Isaiah prophesying the coming of Jesus in Isaiah 7, and the top section on the left window illustrates the coming of Jesus Christ as a baby in Luke 2. The first image on the right window is that of Matthew 21 in which Jesus is riding on a donkey into the city of Jerusalem, while the people praise him and wave palm branches. The next image, Luke 22, shows Jesus praying to God in the garden of Gethsemane the night before he dies. The third image on the right window depicts Matthew 27 when Pilate is refusing to be held responsible for the death of a man who he now believes to be innocent. The second to last depiction on the right is that of John 18 where Jesus is seen hanging on the cross while his mother Mary and disciple John stand next to him. The last image is the greatest of all. It is of Matthew 28 in which Jesus raises from the dead and it is witnessed by an angel and a guard. 

The Biblical Significance behind the Windows 

Throughout these windows, the story of Jesus Christ and the gospel is told from start to finish. From the first sin of man, all the way through to Jesus dying on the cross in place of our sins, the windows depict all of the important biblical moments that make up the gospel story. Without even just one of these stories, the gospel would not be what it is. Unlike all other windows in the church’s sanctuary and chapel, the chancel windows are the only ones that go through the entire gospel story. The importance of these windows is shown by where they hang in the church as well as the gold engravings all throughout the window. Being right behind the pulpit on either side, those that enter the sanctuary are basically guaranteed to lay eyes on the windows (Figure 3). While singing or listening to the pastor preach, the sun shines brightly through the windows, forcing you to acknowledge them and understand just how important the story they tell truly is. The gold used to create the images on the stained-glass show how valuable the images depicted are. Gold is an extremely valuable and expensive metal. It forces everyone around it to notice it. This is why the Chancel Windows are the only ones in the church that have gold detailing. These two stained-glass windows are the most important because they tell the whole story, from start to finish, and without that story, we would not be able to live with God in Heaven for eternity. Anyone sitting in the sanctuary of Mountain Brook Baptist, or even just passing by the church, is blessed with seeing this beautiful window which glows as the sun shines through. 

Throughout Birmingham, there are many religious images all throughout the city in churches, restaurants, and many other places. As a Christian, however, the image that seemed most important was the one that depicted the thing that changes everything, the gospel. This means that the Chancel Windows are the most important because they show the story of Christ from start to finish. When the light shines through those windows, the light truly makes the windows speak to everyone who sees them. 

Figure 3: Chancel Windows (1965) by The Associated Crafts® & Willet Hauser® studio as displayed in the Mountain Brook Baptist Church sanctuary. This image shows what it looks like to be sitting in the sanctuary at Mountain Brook Baptist Church watching the sun shine through the stained-glass windows. Photo: Mountain Brook Baptist Church (2019) 

Works Cited 

Allen, Catherine. “Mountain Brook Baptist to Celebrate 70 Years.” Villagelivingonline.com, 4 Sept. 2014, http://www.villagelivingonline.com/news/mountain-brook-baptist-to-celebrate-70-years/.  

“Associated Crafts® & Willet Hauser® Stained Glass Studio.” Associated Crafts, 4 June 2020, stained-glass-window.us/.  

Hauser, Jim. “Mountain Brook Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL -Sanctuary.” Flickr, Yahoo!, 25 Apr. 2009, http://www.flickr.com/photos/36950174@N02/3474673692/in/photostream/.  

Lewis, Joe. Sacred Space and Sacred Story: A Guide to the Windows Of Mountain Brook Baptist Church. Mountain Brook Baptist Church, 2018.  

Maloney, Christopher. “Mountain Brook.” Encyclopedia of Alabama, 2011, encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3146.  

New International Version. Bible Gateway, http://www.biblegateway.com. Accessed 19 Sept. 2020. 

Rector, Tracey. “A Story to Tell.” Mountain Brook Magazine, 2019, http://www.mountainbrookmagazine.com/mountain-brook-baptist-75/.  

Anna Kate Beaudry ‘24 was a student in the first-year seminar on Religious Images in Birmingham. (UCCA 102) in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in Fall 2020.

Published November 5, 2020.

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