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By Jeannie Dortch. Photo by Dean Hawthorne.

Congregational growth is welcome and healthy to be sure, but when church membership grows, renovation is inevitable. By 1941, First Baptist Church had not only extended the Sanctuary, but had also enlarged the Memorial Chapel in order to seat 160. Used for small weddings and funerals, it was located in what is now the FBC bookstore and library. The original ceiling decoration and art glass windows still remain.

A small but inspirational stained glass window, “Christ in Gethsemane,” was designed by the Willet Studio in Philadelphia to be the Chapel’s focal point. It told the story of Christ beseeching God’s will for Himself, His beloved Jerusalem and His disciples.

Christ in Gethsemane window

"Christ in Gethsemane" window in the Chapel chancel.

It was widely believed that these architectural advances would be sufficient to maintain congregational growth throughout the next quarter century. By 1953, however, overflow crowds in the newly renovated Sanctuary had to be ushered into the Chapel for the 11:00 a.m. service, and parking was creating problems for the city. In 1964, the Sanctuary was extended again to seat 1,100 and an addition was added to the Mulberry Street side of the building that would house a new chapel capable of seating 340.

Unable to enlarge “Christ in Gethsemane,” but needing to install the window on a much larger wall behind the new chapel pulpit, the Willet Studio designed a stained glass border replete with symbolism related to prayer. The broad frame was rendered using a technique that incorporated 23 karat gold on lead to divide the figures, producing a brilliant effect, be it night or day. Along the top and the bottom of the border are Old Testament giants of prayer: Moses, Samuel, David, and Isaiah. The side panels are reserved for various symbols of the words and images from the Lord’s Prayer.

Today, the Chapel is used for the deaf ministry, for prayer and healing services, and remains a popular venue for intimate weddings and small funeral services.

Editor’s note:  To learn more about the stained glass windows in the Sanctuary and the Chapel, visit the FBC library to check out a copy of Memorial Windows by Theodore F. Adams.


Jeannie DortchJeannie Dortch joined FBC in 1974 after being lovingly mentored by the members of Buddy Hamilton’s Sunday school class. A grandmother of four, Jeannie has served as a deacon, taught in our children’s, youth, international, and adult Sunday school departments, but attends the WebClass presently. Recently retired from 16 years of teaching at Rudlin Torah Academy, Jeannie enjoys exercising, cooking, reading, tutoring New American students at Maybeury Elementary, and writing articles for FTF.

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