Stained-glass windows and gospel concert shine light on black history

By Jewell Cardwell
Beacon Journal columnist

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Fairlawn Lutheran Church member Robert Fischer looks at the chapel stained glass windows made by Cleveland African-American artist Douglas Phillips in 1970. The Arlington Church of God gospel choir will perform a concert in the chapel to honor Phillips as part of Black History month. (Paul Tople/Akron Beacon Journal)
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One local church has quite a window on black history.

Many, many windows in fact.

Fairlawn Lutheran Church, a predominantly white congregation, is preparing to fling open its doors during Black History Month, which begins today, to share the legacy that has quietly been decades in the making.

What the church is calling its “Windows” celebration kicks off at 3 p.m. Sunday with a gospel concert featuring the multitalented Leslie Parker Barnes, minister of praise and worship at the predominantly black Arlington Church of God in Akron, and a booming 45-voice choir. The church is also inviting the community to visit all month and enjoy its stained-glass windows.

Longtime church member Robert H. “Bob” Fischer showed off the church’s original sanctuary, built in 1959, which is the treasure house for 37 contemporary windows. Each one is breathtaking.

A member of the church council and chairman of the stewardship team, Fischer has deep roots in the church. He and his wife, Beverley, were married there in 1968. Two of the couple’s four children were married in the original chapel, where the windows are installed, and the other two in the newer chapel.

Now about those extraordinary windows, which filter in long beams of light and bridge what some may view as a cultural divide, and the man who made both possible.

The windows were designed and created by the late Doug Phillips, an African-American artist from Cleveland. “He was truly a genius,” Fischer enthused. “His scriptural knowledge was just amazing!

“And their message is contemporary and timeless,” he said, noting one window depicting Christ’s Nativity which featured a young family.

“The very first window, near the altar, honoring the Rev. J. Franklin Yount, cost $1,600 in 1968,” Fischer said.

Yount was founding pastor of the Fairlawn church and five other Akron-area Lutheran churches.

“We would do a few windows at time as the church had funds to do them,” Fischer said of the hugely expensive project that spanned 1968 to 1982.

Another window is a mosaic of a dove, the serpent, the Ten Commandments, Moses, the Ark of the Covenant, the Tree of Jesse and church steeples and towers. Phillips also did a series of windows depicting the races of man and different careers: medical, pastoral and musical, just to name a few.

Adding to the excitement and authenticity of the display is the fact that church has storyboards from Phillips describing each of the windows.

Hiring an artist

Asked how it came to pass that the church would decide to give its business to an African-American, Fischer replied matter-of-factly: “Because he was the best!”

Fairlawn Lutheran Church’s windows were in the national spotlight when they were prominently displayed in a December 1971 issue of Ebony magazine, in an article about Doug Phillips (1922-1995).

Phillips developed his drawing and portrait skills in an outstanding high school art department in Buffalo, N.Y. He studied at the Cleveland Institute of Art during World War II, and did advanced studies at Syracuse University, graduating in 1950.

Upon his return to Cleveland, he joined John W. Winterich and Associates — a studio specializing in church interiors, where he helped establish the stained-glass department — before branching out on his own. He founded Phillips Stained Glass Studio on Superior Avenue in the late 1950s.

Fischer and two of his fellow congregants, Rod Parks and Ilona Stroupe, came together to organize the Windows/Black History Celebration.

“It was Ilona who suggested Leslie Parker Barnes for the gospel concert,” Fischer was quick to say. “Ilona sings with the Summit Choral Society, which had performed at Arlington Church of God.” As president of Tuesday Musical Association, which has hosted Parker Barnes’ Youth Excellence Performing Arts Workshop (YEPAW) students, Fischer was also familiar with its founder and director.

And what a marvelous fit it portends to be.

Concert planned

Parker Barnes will be delivering a 45-voice choir for the concert, a combination of Arlington’s Chancel Choir, its men’s choir and a few members of the youth and young adult chorus. The concert will take place in a newer, larger chapel.

“Our opening hymn will be To Him Who Sits on the Throne,” Parker Barnes said. “It’s a wonderful, full-choir piece that will set the tempo for the evening.

“One of the songs I’m looking forward to doing is Lord, I Want to be Christian (In My Heart). It’s a Moses Hogan arrangement.”

While several other surprises are included in the repertoire, Parker Barnes was eager to trumpet the selection she plans to close with — Psalms 91, an original arrangement by Bernadette Salley, assistant minister of music at Arlington.

“I’m really looking forward to the evening,” Parker Barnes exhaled. “We have this wonderful black history right here in our community! Who knew?

“I’m just thrilled for the opportunity to help them celebrate,” she continued. “We have so much in common. I think we have to look for opportunities and create the moments that call us together. And this is one of those moments where communities can come together to celebrate what we have in common.”

Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or jcardwell@thebeaconjournal.com.


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