God giveth, taketh away, and sometimes leaveth collateral damage, which is why Don Young is smarting these days. The local glass artist, wife Debora Young, and several other helpers spent more than eight years creating 32 stained-glass windows that were placed inside a chapel at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on West Seminary Drive. The Youngs expected to spend the next 10 years or so creating three-dozen more windows to complete their commission.
“Jobs like this are almost once in a lifetime for us,” Young said. “There are very few stained-glass window companies that have steady work.”
That steady job was torn asunder amid church politics and an administration upheaval. Earlier this month, church board members issued a letter announcing that the windows would be removed and relocated “in the best interest of the institution.” No details about those “best interests” were included, and church officials were unavailable to discuss the situation with me prior to press time. Still, it hardly requires divine intervention to follow the breadcrumbs on this twisted trail.
In 2013, the Youngs began working on the windows after being hired by Dorothy Patterson, the wife of then-seminary president Paige Patterson. She wanted to depict modern leaders of the conservative resurgence in life-sized glory on colored and etched glass and hang them in the MacGorman Chapel and Performing Arts Center, a two-story, 60,000-square-foot building on the seminary campus.
“My dream was to portray the 20-year history of the conservative resurgence of the Southern Baptist church,” Dorothy told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram back then.
The unusual nature of the commission wasn’t lost on the Youngs. The windows, rather than depicting saints, prophets, or Biblical figures, glorified the Pattersons and other modern leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Baptist denomination and second largest Christian denomination, who championed a fundamentalist conservative movement.
“All these figures she wanted to depict were what she called ‘heroes of the resurgence,’ ” Young said.
The 1970s saw a power struggle erupt between liberals and conservatives in the church, a battle that culminated with the “conservative resurgence” or “fundamentalist takeover,” depending on which side you were on. Paul Pressler, a primary figure among the conservatives, was also depicted in stained glass.
The potential problems with depicting contemporary people in stained glass are easy to guess. It’s risky to lionize leaders before allowing the test of time to winnow out the demagogues from the saviors.
In recent years, Pressler has battled a lawsuit and sexual misconduct claims from men who say he abused them as children.
In May 2018, the seminary board fired Paige Patterson as president and stripped him of his retirement benefits after accusing him of lying and covering up a rape allegation involving a fellow parishioner at another church and his manner of dealing with sexual abuse allegations at the seminary.
“Two or three other guys we put in windows have also had problems lately,” Young said. “One of the guys got in trouble for cheating on his wife, and it became public. Another guy got in trouble for posing as a black gangster [in a social media photo] and holding a gun up in the air. We put all these guys in stained glass.”
Southern Baptist journals, blogs, and social media sites began sniping about the windows when Patterson was under fire. A self-described former Southwestern Seminary student commenting on a theological podcast site blasted Patterson for his dictatorial style and said the “stained-glass thing caused people to either gush or vomit, and I could never understand those who gushed. [Patterson] was like the politician on a perpetual ego trip who let the power and perks of it all go to his head long ago.”
The Youngs dealt with Dorothy rather than Paige Patterson while working on the windows. She provided photos of the people she wanted depicted in the windows. The Youngs enlisted the help of local sculptor and illustrator Deran Wright, who would hand-draw the people based on the photos. Then Young would etch the drawings into the glass.
Wright would draw perfect likenesses of the subjects, which turned out to be problematic, Young said. Dorothy wanted church leaders to look younger and more attractive, he said.
Wright would “do many versions to get Mrs. Patterson happy,” Young said. “She would say, ‘Nope, that’s not good enough. Get rid of those bags under their eyes.’ We had to change them so much to make these people look very artificial. A lot of them, by the time [Wright] got through with them, didn’t look anything like they actually do.”
And just because St. Peter wasn’t holding his pet Yorkie while posing for stained-glass windows back in the day doesn’t mean the Pattersons couldn’t step things up. The large window featuring the couple included their Labrador standing faithfully at their sides.
Despite its unusual elements, Young said, the job was fun, challenging, and lucrative.
“It was a very complex project,” he said. “We had just about completed the downstairs portion. Those windows were 5 feet wide and 11 feet tall. Gigantic windows. As soon as we finished one window, we had another one lined up right behind it. That’s unusual in my line of work.”
The Youngs had received about $1 million over the years to create the windows, although much of that was eaten up in material and labor costs, he said. Still, the steady income over the years allowed the couple to pay off their home 10 years early.
“It was a good income for us,” Young said. “We had a good run for eight years and were anticipating another eight years, so it was a real blow to lose that.”
Much of the money raised to pay for the windows came from the people depicted in them, and they will be given the opportunity to take possession of the windows specific to them, Young said. I emailed Paige Patterson at his website to seek an interview with him and Dorothy but did not hear back by press time.
Removing so many windows at once is unprecedented, Young said.
“I’ve never heard of anything in history of removing a whole chapel full of stained glass,” he said.
He seems doubtful that the new church leaders will commission him or anyone else to create new windows to replace the old ones.
“I think stained glass is a dirty word to them at the moment,” he said. “They are so upset about this. To get rid of $1 million worth of stained-glass windows is pretty radical.”