BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — The sun was so bright Monday inside The First Baptist Church that the sanctuary’s seven stained-glass windows seemed to glow in blues, yellows and reds.
From a distance, the windows looked magnificent. Up close was a different story.
The lead frame is pulling away from the large window in the front of the stone church on Lafayette Street, and other windows have cracks or, in one instance, broken glass.
The most troublesome window may be the large stained-glass one over the altar, which depicts the parable of Jesus and the lost lamb. When it rains hard, the window leaks.
The First Baptist Church moved here in 2007 after its old church building on Federal Street was taken for the new state courthouse. The church received $2 million from the state and has since spent about $400,000 to fix up its new building and parsonage. It has replaced the roof and several oil tanks, and installed new air-conditioning and wooden floors.
First Baptist, which has fewer than 100 members, is about to start a new project, the renovation of the church’s lower level, in the hope of growing the congregation. They plan to add an industrial kitchen, an elevator or lifts and a handicapped bathroom. The cost is estimated at $100,000.
Right now, First Baptist is a meeting place for Girl Scouts, quilters, magicians and a Hispanic church. With the improvements, it hopes to create an active community room for its members and outside rentals.
“One of the things we’d like to do is to be a place where we serve community meals,” said the Rev. Renee Keels, the pastor.
The total cost could rise dramatically, however, because of the need to repair the stained-glass windows, especially the one over the altar, which is directly above the lower church construction site. There is no point renovating the lower hall if the upper sanctuary is leaking, Keels said.
But repairing stained-glass windows, some of which were dedicated as far back as 1917, is a costly and complicated project. For starters, church officials are not certain what kind of stained glass is in the windows or even the history of the memorial windows in what originally was the Lafayette Street Methodist Church.
One window is dedicated to Robin Damon, whom Keels recently learned was the founder of The Salem Evening News. But other windows named for C.A. Ketchum, Mabel Woodman and Dora Dockham remain a mystery.
“We want to see if Mabel Woodman (and the others) have any relatives still left in the Salem community,” Keels said.
Keels has contacted the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., as she starts to look for funding and guidance. She also hopes to talk with local experts at the Salem Historical Commission and Historic Salem Inc., a private preservation organization.
All the pastor knows for certain is that she wants to renovate the 1911 stone church while preserving the sacred windows that cast a rainbow of light inside the sanctuary.
“At some point, someone said, ‘Maybe you ought to take the windows down,’” Keels said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’”
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.