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By Jeannie Dortch.

Light of the World window

The Light of the World window. Photo by Dean Hawthorne.

In 1943, many of FBC’s membership served in World War II. The congregation sent them packages and letters, a calendar of church activities and events, and “prayed without ceasing” for these brave volunteers. But the congregation wanted to thank them in a more concrete and visible way. The Payne Spiers Studio of Paterson, New Jersey was hired to design and install a Tiffany-style stained glass window to honor them. Known as “Christ at the Door” or “The Light of the World,” and based on the 1854 painting by English artist Holman Hunt, it hung in the balcony facing the pulpit but could also be seen from the street on the Monument Avenue side of the building. The contours of the glass actually mimicked the folds of Christ’s garments and the inscription under the picture read:

“To those who served and sacrificed
That mankind might be free
To live and worship in His light.”

In 1943, after the installation of the window, a color copy of it was sent to each of the men and women who were serving at the time. There is a plaque in the narthex listing the names of all 521. As a frame of reference, the average number of FBC members in the armed services whose names appear presently on the prayer list each day is about 10.

WWII memorial plaque

Richmond's First Baptist Church WWII memorial plaque. Photos by David Powers.

During a remodeling of the sanctuary in January 1965, painters working in the balcony laid drop cloths over the flood lights that illuminated “Christ at the Door.” Finished for the day and not realizing that the lights came on automatically at dusk, the workmen left their drop cloths in place. The heat from the lamps during the late afternoon ignited a fire; by the time the fire was put out, the window was severely damaged. By June, the window had been restored using the finest craftsmanship available at the time, but without the contouring technique that had made the original glass so exceptional. The new window was given by his family in memory of T. Justin Moore, a life deacon and deacon chair from 1935-1955.

Sacrifice window

Sacrifice window. Photo by Dean Hawthorne.

The significance of World War II in the lives of FBC’s members continued to be profound. In the series of windows on the lower west side of the sanctuary is “Sacrifice,” installed in 1947. Designed by Katharine Tait Lamb of the Lamb Studios in Tenafly, New Jersey (currently in Wyckoff, NJ), and based on input from Pastor Theodore F. Adams, it is a dramatic rendering of men on the battlefield. It was meant to compliment the “Crucifixion” window in the balcony above and commemorate the gift of life given in the spirit of Him who “Loved us and gave Himself for us.”

Tom Peason

Tom Pearson

The oldest of the survivors who served at the time the foyer plaque was made, and one of four remaining FBC members whose names appear on it, is Tom Pearson. A native of South Carolina, Tom had been in the food business before joining the Army. His skills were utilized in food procurement for base cooks in South Carolina, but he also taught soldiers the art of battlefield camouflage in Georgia before his three year stint ended. “Doing something for the country made me feel very good, but leaving my family for that long was hard.”

Linwood Broach

Linwood Broach

Linwood Broach, a friend and contemporary of Tom Pearson, is the only one of the four who actually served overseas during the war. He fought with the 3rd Army’s 328th Tanker Division under General George S. Patton Jr. In 1944 Linwood was shot in the head while fighting on the German-French border and received the Purple Heart for his bravery under fire. Dr. Theodore Adams, FBC pastor from 1936 to 1968, worked with the Red Cross to find him in a Swiss hospital. After his recovery, Linwood returned to the field and continued to serve until the end of the war.

Dickie Hamilton

Dickie Hamilton

“The patriotic intensity was inspirational to every soldier, sailor and pilot,” said Dickie Hamilton, whose name also appears on the plaque. President Roosevelt had established a civilian aviation program that was open to college students. In the summer of 1941, while a student at Washington and Lee University, Dickie took a course at Byrd Field to become an aviator. Highly motivated to participate, he dropped out of college in 1943, joined the Navy, and graduated from the Pensacola, Florida naval installation as a Navy pilot in five months. He was a member of a squadron that was being trained to fly on and off the SS Roosevelt, being built at the time. His group trained and patrolled off three different carriers in the Atlantic Ocean guarding the US coast while waiting for their chance to go overseas. The war ended before the SS Roosevelt was commissioned.

Don Fergusson

Don Fergusson

“I’m not a hero,” commented Don Fergusson when asked about his service in WW II. “I was drafted into the army eleven days after I graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School, and because I had played in the band, I was not given the choice to go overseas. I played my trumpet and performed in parades throughout Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. I was glad to serve because of the significance of the war to everyone in the United States.” Maintaining patriotic fervor and attention to the war effort was paramount at the time. A noteworthy part of Don’s job was to play at train depots as soldiers were leaving for and returning from combat.

These WW II memorial windows continue to be apt tributes to all who fight for freedom around the world.

Editor’s note: Copies of the fully illustrated Memorial Windows written by Theodore F. Adams and The Open Door, the church’s history from 1780-2005, are available for checkout or purchase in the church library.


Jeannie Dortch

Jeannie 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 Journey class 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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