BROOKVILLE — A mystery more than 100 years old continues to perplex the congregation of Grace Lutheran Church in Brookville.
The mystery is the name of the donor(s) of the large stained glass windows which, until a few days ago, were located behind the altar in the chancel of the church. Adding to the mystery is the date when the windows were placed in the church.
“We have no idea where the window came from,” Pastor Ben Austin said. Referring to the early history of Brookville, he said, “This church was built on this hill, with nothing else. Right across the valley is Mr. Litch’s house. In one of the pictures Mr. Litch took of his lumber yard you can see the church” without the stained glass window.
“We do know that two parts of the window may have been at the front of the church,” he said. “We know they were donated by two organizations. The donors of all the stained glass windows on either side of the church are clearly identified. The bottom windows have no identification marks.”
Austin said another feature of the window adds to the mystery. “What is really interesting about the window is that it has a Masonic Bible in it. The position of the Lutheran Church at that time was that you could not be a baptized Lutheran Christian and be a Mason because of their secret oaths,” he said. “We are not anti-Masonic as a parish, but where did this come from?
“We have no clue. The two bottom windows, at the beginning, did they hang at the front of the church? The problem is, all pictures show clear glass. The stained glass windows on the sides point to the 1890s,” he said.
“The other option, and we can’t substantiate it,” he said, “is did they come from St. John’s Lutheran Church Windy Hill? Did the teardrop hang in another church? It matches nothing, so it is an absolute mystery. Did someone have these lying around? The only other windows in town that I’ve seen like these are in the Baptist Church. Originally this church, St. John’s and St. Matthew’s (Green Valley) were part of a three-point parish, perfectly laid out in a triangle.
“There is so much intrigue about this window,” he said. “It has been covered and uncovered five times.” First, a wall was built in front of it, against the altar. Then the wall was torn down. “It was open for a while, then they boarded it up again. Then they undid that and put a curtain over it. Then they boarded it back up again. Finally they took it off again and since the late 80s it was standing here, open,” he said. “Part of the problem was that when they put the plexiglass over it, they didn’t drill any holes, so it started to deteriorate.
“For the past year and a half the window has been deteriorating,” Austin said. “The recent weather hastened the deterioration. When they opened the frame it was full of rot. It has sat in there for almost a century of wind, rain and neglect. It was pure inertia holding it in.”
The windows were carefully removed and have been wrapped in plastic. Drywall is currently covering the wall in the chancel.
“We are currently evaluating our options,” Austin said. “There are several different options, which the congregation, not the pastor, will decide. We will be moving forward, evaluating what will be the most economical way. At the same time we want to preserve the gift we have been given, how to live our mission as Christ’s church in this community.”
Among the options being considered are restoring or copying the windows, “which is very expensive,” he said. “We have a stained glass committee that is reviewing other options. I trust this congregation. We have many brilliant minds and I know they will make good suggestions. I’m leaving it up to them.
“This is the oldest house of worship standing in Brookville,” Austin said. “We have been very fortunate. But the stained glass window is a mystery.”